Digitalisation is enabling renewable energy asset owners to gather, display, analyse and act on data more effectively than ever before, giving rise to astonishing technological developments in both performance monitoring and asset management.
When used and managed effectively, data is an exceptionally powerful tool, helping us to identify trends, predict future problems, recognise investment opportunities and find marginal gains in even the most finely honed of processes.
When mismanaged, however, it can cause more problems than it solves.
The explosive growth in the ways in which data can be used threatens to become overwhelming for asset managers and portfolio owners. What type of data is available? Which data is relevant to our renewable energy portfolio? What quality of data do we need to collect and monitor to improve performance? What are the challenges we actually need to solve? Who should we turn to for help?
The latter question often proves particularly challenging. Software providers have sprung up left right and centre, each keen to differentiate themselves from the other. This has resulted in a highly competitive, complex market that is full to bursting with product offerings.
The right choice of asset management and monitoring software can have a significant positive impact in terms of boosting portfolio performance, optimising maintenance regimes and reducing OPEX costs. But making the wrong choice can leave asset owners stuck down ‘data dead-ends’ – unable to drive further innovation and at risk of falling behind.
Renewable energy is still a young industry with much to learn – and businesses leading the clean energy transition need confidence that they have future-proof software that leaves them well-placed to maintain a competitive edge.
In the first instance, this means helping asset owners find a way to avoid those ‘data dead-ends’ – but ultimately, it will require a bigger shift in the way software providers open up, collaborate and provide greater flexibility in their offerings.
Step 1: Avoiding ‘data dead-ends’
There are a number of ways in which investment in a software platform can ultimately limit, rather than create, options for renewable energy asset owners:
Software provider insolvency
No software provider can fully guarantee the future availability of their service platform. Whilst the market for digital solutions in renewable energy is still relatively young, competition is high, and though many software providers are establishing a strong foothold, others will not have the same longevity. Market consolidation is to be expected, but a lack of future technical support is a real dead-end for asset owners that have invested heavily in a platform.
This can be tricky to assess, but look for a provider that has a clear track record in your market, a regional presence, and strong global portfolio of assets monitored.
Single technology support
Renewable energy portfolios are becoming more technologically diverse. Modern portfolios encompass not only equipment supplied by numerous Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), but also a range of renewable energy technologies, including wind, solar, hydro and storage.
While there are arguments in favour of using the technology-specific software supplied by a turbine or module OEM, a lack of cross-compatibility with other manufacturers’ software can severely limit the ability of portfolio owners to gain a comprehensive overview of and benchmark asset performance.
Likewise, software that focuses one renewable energy technology or asset type may justifiably claim to offer ‘deeper’ insights – but ultimately choosing such a platform, particularly if integration with other platforms isn’t possible, may ultimately be just as restrictive when it comes to making informed portfolio-wide decisions.
Reliance on bespoke, in-house systems
Bespoke in-house monitoring software remains popular with asset managers – and the offer of a platform that is fully tailored to existing in-house processes and systems is appealing.
However, reliance on in-house platforms – often developed by small local partners – can significantly slow down the pace of innovation portfolio owners can achieve in their asset management approaches. The door is often closed to collaboration and knowledge sharing with other software developers and parties, and when updates are made, they can be slow and resource intensive.
Step 2: Opening up the software marketplace
Asset and portfolio owners can avoid a number of these potential ‘dead-ends’ by choosing a technology and OEM-agnostic software platform, offered by a stable long-term partner. A genuine ‘datahub’ should offer a means of accessing and acting on all portfolio data no matter the source. It should always open doors, creating avenues for cross-comparison, evolution and innovation, rather than closing doors with a limited single-technology focus, or cumbersome updates.
Such platforms do exist – and the Greenbyte Energy Cloud, for example, has been designed with exactly these objectives in mind. But there is still scope for software providers to do more to speed up the pace of industry innovation.
Specifically, at Greenbyte we believe that there are limits to what one software provider can achieve. We think that it is time to open up a ‘marketplace’ for renewable energy software, by inviting a new level of collaboration between developers, and giving smaller players a route to market for innovative, highly specialized asset management tools.
The ‘marketplace’ or ‘app store’ concept has been very successful at driving innovation across numerous industries, and there is a huge amount that the renewable energy sector can learn from this as it embraces digitalization and seeks ongoing performance improvements.
When integrated with cloud software, a marketplace enables users to tailor their ‘dashboard’ with a range of ‘add-ons’, that enable them to achieve greater functionality, benefit from the latest technologies, and meet specific needs.
For renewables portfolio owners, in practice that may mean drawing on third-party software applications targeting areas such as predictive maintenance, power price forecasting, performance benchmarking and life extension. Using these ‘add-ons’ will directly contribute to better-informed operational and financial decision-making.
Critically, it will also mean that portfolio owners do not have to wait months or years for the functionality they need to be integrated into their software platform, enabling them to move much more quickly.
The Greenbyte Marketplace – launched this month – is, as far as we are aware, the first example of a marketplace for asset monitoring and management software tools in renewable energy. It integrates directly with the Greenbyte Energy Cloud, giving users access to a range of exciting new tools developed by third-party software providers.
We are certain that this open collaboration with our peers will be essential if the renewable energy industry is to avoid ‘data dead-ends’ and take full advantage of the huge benefits offered by digitalization.