Solar energy is at the forefront of the present-day renewable energy space, making use of the widely abundant and freely available energy of the sun. Globally, solar energy companies have experienced an ever-increasing growth rate. This has resulted in large-scale solar plants with numerous physical assets distributed in remote and wide-spread areas. With such a scale of operation, come challenges of maintaining performance and profitability while preserving a competitive edge. Advancement in equipment engineering, efficient production techniques and superior energy storage approaches can no longer be the only answers to these challenges. The next phase of innovation will be powered by remote monitoring technologies coupled with data analytics. Optimizing ROI in the solar space will be a balancing act between increasing performance, reducing costs, maintaining productivity while sustaining profits and achieving economies of scale. The Internet of Things (IOT) provides a technological platform to achieve this and will prove to be a significant differentiator in this race-to-the-top by providing access to previously untapped avenues to increasing productivity and maximizing ROI.
Key challenges faced by the stakeholders
Some of the key challenges faced by the solar industry come in the form of expensive modules, low efficiency, unreliable generation and high maintenance costs. Following section discusses these issues in brief:
Efficiency: The power output of a solar plant is highly dependent on the efficiency of the solar cells. Most of the commercial solar cells today have an efficiency of around 20%. This is further hampered due to environmental factors such as module soiling, module shading, etc.
Unreliability: Solar power generation is subject to availability of sun’s energy and thus remains an unreliable source. Due to intermittent weather conditions, insufficient generation may result in unfulfilled demand.
Costs: Periodic maintenance and replacement of equipment add up a significant cost for O&M teams in a solar plant. Contemporary approaches to maintenance result in unplanned and often ineffective maintenance schedules, largely affecting the productivity of the workforce. Also, downtime due to equipment failure results in loss of generation and revenue.