Tech Based O&M for Solar Projects Can Optimize Cost-Effectiveness and Sustainability

As the renewable sector matured in India towards competitive bidding, the emphasis shifted from building capacities at a brisk pace towards cost-effectiveness and even portfolio consolidation.

Project operations and maintenance (O&M), which was previously viewed as an afterthought, with the falling tariffs, has come into the spotlight as it directly affects both the competitiveness and efficiency of solar projects.

With the size of the solar projects increasing manifold, O&M costs spiked in absolute terms. Today, developers are facing the pressure, since O&M cost is a function of revenues from the project. With falling tariffs, it became necessary to adopt a fresh approach to O&M, along with the traditional approach of corrective, scheduled, and preventive maintenance.

We at Hero Future Energies (HFE), the renewable energy arm of the Hero Group, believe that when it comes to O&M, what worked for smaller projects is no longer viable for larger solar portfolios. Consequently, at our project sites, we are transforming O&M through digitalization that will allow us to be proactive rather than reactive to the occurrence of faults.


Projects with better technologies are also equipped with SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems for immediate detection of faults and breakdown monitoring. But we are evolving our O&M from just SCADA-based breakdown monitoring to predictive monitoring. This is made possible by a combination of Central Monitoring System (CMS), advanced proprietary analytics, drones, thermal imaging, PV analyzer, and condition-based monitoring always to remain one step ahead in the equipment-failure curve.

As the size of the portfolio is getting bigger and geography more diverse than ever, we are adopting technologies to reduce human errors in monitoring the regular performance of our plants.

  • AI (Artificial Intelligence) with ML (Machine Learning) monitors the project for underperformance. It also separates outliers among the group of equipment, and in case of any divergence, reports it directly to the engineer through Telegram.

For example, an inverter operating above a certain cut-off temperature is indicative of a future failure even if the inverter is generating at its optimal level at that moment. Our CMS empowered with machine learning will detect any such outlier among all inverters, and the “Business rule engine” will send messages to all group members on an application as handy as WhatsApp or Telegram.

  • Thermal imaging, with the help of drones, keeps us updated on the health of the solar modules. All affected modules are immediately checked manually. The regular drone survey also keeps us updated on the overall health of the site by capturing vegetation growth, boundary condition, etc.
  • Forecasting and scheduling are mainly outsourced to a Qualified Coordinating Agency (QCA) as a service by all developers. However, the entire penalty incurred lies with the developer. We have developed an in-house platform to track the penalties specific to each site and take immediate response to any indication of higher penalties.

New age O&M requires newer strategies to run larger portfolios with higher uptime and lower penalties effectively. Technology-based O&M has the potential to ensure higher revenues as well as the longevity of assets. The rising solar capacity has also led to the rise of the solar PV O&M market, which is expected to exceed 900 GW worldwide by 2022. We at HFE, have replaced manual processes and excel spreadsheets with professional software solutions.

Total solar installations in India have crossed the 35 GW mark, according to Mercom’s India Solar Project Tracker. Approximately ~31 GW of large-scale solar projects were in operation as of December 2019.

 

Contributed by Atul Raaizada, Head projects, and O&M, Hero Future Energies

Image credit: Hero Future Energies