Tim’s Experience of the Smart Solar PV Forum

November 6, 2017

Earlier this year, EvoEnergy’s Technical Manager, Tim Hickman, was invited to present at the Smart Solar PV Forum held this year in Berlin on the 26th and 27th October.

The 30 minute presentation was delivered with technology partner, PAD Technology, on the topic of ‘Performance Measurement Innovations’ and attracted excellent feedback and praise from the large audience.

Below is Tim’s appraisal of the forum, taken from his recent LinkedIn Post;

“This conference had a narrower focus than many I have previously attended, but as the European PV market continues to sharpen its focus on managing existing assets, and O&M opportunities increase it was timely, and the attendees noteworthy.

This re-focusing is important as low and unsubsidised market conditions now prevail and post boom normalisation takes place, including the fixing of poorly built solar plants.

The conference title was intriguing and likely all the attendees including me were somewhat uncertain of what specifically we might hear and learn but with high expectations. This is a very brief summary of two intensive days, and I hope worth sharing.

Firstly we heard Susanne von Aichberger, Senior Analyst of IHS Markit with a credible assessment on future of the European PV market. Some comfort was found in predictions for the UK of a steady demand in 2018-2021 and the increasing relevance of self-consumption and importance of storage. These are all things which EvoEnergy has comfortably in its stride, with our first behind the meter battery storage projects underway.

Many speakers with an asset ownership or management angle dwelt in detail on their own experience of O&M to date and the ups and downs. The hot topic was however data and not any data… big data. Monitoring systems are producing voluminous amounts of data, and the questions are, what to do with it? what does is tell us? can we use it better? is the data even right or useful? The doubts were many, and for now aspiration for improvement has not given way to solutions.

One thing was clear, much data is ignored because it is not useful. O&M desks are awash with alarms for transient communication losses and other information which is non-actionable noise. The problem is that issues which should be actioned are missed in the digital deluge, and if there is useful information, there is often neither the skills, nor tools to comprehend it.

Better automatic filtering can reduce this noise but there is obvious need for analysts to apply their skills and tools to the question of how outputs from monitoring systems can be more functional.

It was also obvious to me when listening to those who had analytical skills and understood the informatics process that this is a skill set not often found in O&M providers EPCs or developers, and why would they. A new type of service provider has emerged in specialist analysis of the data from PV systems and the practical actions done by others, typically O&M companies.

Many of us were somewhat bamboozled by methodologies applied to data that can sift all manner of information from the raw data. Engineers and folk who know PV need to inform the process but the unravelling of the data requires skills we mostly don’t possess.

A sense of direction and outcome needs to be kept in focus. After all we may be able to predict when things may fail or when marginal issues are nibbling at plant performance but what actually can be done? A manufacturer is unlikely to send a replacement on a prediction of failure in the next few months. However this information is helpful for planning resources, stocking spare parts for prompt replacement and uncovering design flaws and improvements.

My own presentation on EvoEnergy’s progress in improving our performance measurement methods, jointly presented with our supplier partner Phil Jones of PAD Technology was well received. We were reassured that what we perceived as improvement of our service provision to clients was indeed real progress and genuinely innovative.

Lastly we heard from Francois Sonnet a Solar Energy Blockchain Advisor with the SolarCoin Foundation, the solar PV specific crypto currency. This was hotly anticipated by most and the presentation generated more questions and lively engagement than any other. For most this mysterious subject was greatly illuminated and I firmly believe that this could be a real force for good and bring revenue streams that will fund rural electrification in developing nations and contribute to the democratisation of energy.

Today returning to work, I am invigorated as always having spent time with industry colleagues and encouraged that our innovation is innovative, and with new understanding and contacts to try fresh things. It would be nice however not to hear the words ‘big data’ or ‘machine learning’ for at least a week!”

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