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Considering Utility-scale Solar Projects? Read this ...

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

Solar is currently the fastest-growing generation technology in the world, with a continuously decreasing levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). This blog approaches to address the challenges solar generators face and what they need to do to drive greater performance in solar development going forward.

Today, approximately half of global installed solar generation is from utility-scale plants, defined as grid-connected, ground-mounted plants of 5 MW DC (direct current) or larger. At approximately 2,500 to 4,000 panels per MW, the large number of panels, inverters, material movements, projects, contracts, stakeholders, and suppliers and repetitive nature of construction make solar a strong candidate for digital transformation.

The most significant challenge for solar generators is managing the end-to-end development process to meet the target cost, timeline and LCOE, given the different transitions and parties involved in the process. In origination and business development, the primary challenges are finding, financing and competing for the most appealing projects, given the variety of technology options and cost and resource yield implications. In engineering, it’s designing the most commercially competitive solution, including the technology choices and delivery model. In project and contract management, it’s commercial and operational management of the contracts including schedule, cost and project control structures. In construction, it’s the management of the large numbers of people and materials on the field to verify safe, efficient operations and an effective handover to operations and maintenance (O&M).

Six key pointers for path forward

Those generators that invest in digital are better positioned to address the pointers and capture the related opportunities.

Pointer 1: End-to-end approach, powered by digital, is essential.

The development of a solar project needs to be tracked from the earliest conceptualization, when the LCOE estimates and financial case are developed, through to operational start-up. The end-to-end approach needs to look at both the commercial side of a project—tracking the LCOE of project/asset during the life cycle of the project/asset—and operational side, managing the flow of documents, materials, handovers, and tracking workforce productivity and interfaces across the different project stakeholders.

Pointer 2: Front-end data and analytics are key to optimize LCOE.

Analytics are required across the origination, business development and conceptual design phases, all leveraging large data sets, i.e., site selection parameters, panel orientation, assessment of solar resource, future energy prices, power purchase agreement (PPA) terms, current and future technical specifications, cost and performance data on module and tracking systems, and O&M costs.

Pointer 3: Collaboration on the cloud is paramount to commercial and operational management of partners.

Develop a collaborative digital environment for document management and version control of the contract and associated project documents during the project life cycle, including records of the design documents, permits and licenses, audit trails of communications related to variations, and purchase orders.

Pointer 4: Invest in digital construction including robotics, supply chain and digital worker.

Invest in analytics to improve the construction process. This includes increasing visibility in the construction progress and the materials in the supply chain and to monitor schedule and contractor performance, robotics to do the drilling, pile driving, installation and even operation, mobility to support workers on the field, and automation of module assembly.

Pointer 5: Enhance cybersecurity resilience while increasing readiness for regulatory compliance.

Strengthen cybersecurity investments and practices for renewables that support compliance with existing regulations, leading practices and increase resilience against and fast response to potential attacks.

Pointer 6: Assess O&M impact on design and LCOE.

Assess the impact of O&M technology choices, maintenance approach, and confirm that learnings are passed to the next project.

Credits: Accenture Renewable Report

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