Our Big Takeaway for SPI 2017: The Critical Importance of Data and How You Use It Throughout the Solar Value Chain

By on September 17, 2017

By Kristan Kirsh

At last week’s Solar Power International in Las Vegas, there was definitely a buzz, and it wasn’t just about the ramifications of the impending Section 201 trade case. From a solar technology perspective, the buzz was about getting the most value out of solar power plant data and energy storage.   

Not only was collecting data a recurring theme, but more importantly, its analysis and conversion into practical, actionable knowledge. During a panel devoted to the use of data to analyze system operation and failure, NEXTracker’s software VP Allan Daly explained how data drives the company’s value chain. Noting the wealth of operational and performance data acquired from the hundreds of sensors on each tracker row, he cited examples where that data has led to improvements in NX product design and enhanced power plant output.

NEXTracker VP of Software, Allan Daly joined fellow experts on the panel 'Using Data to Analyze System Operation and Failure,' during SPI 2017

NEXTracker VP of Software, Allan Daly, joined fellow experts on the panel ‘Using Data to Analyze System Operation and Failure,’ during SPI 2017

Faster system installation and commissioning, cheaper SCADA integration, more predictive analytics, lower maintenance costs, and optimized kilowatt-hour production have all directly resulted from the intelligent collection and use of data, he said. This data-driven creation of value has led to improved products, reduced costs, increased uptime and system reliability, and the delivery of innovative features and services, such as NEXTracker’s new TrueCapture energy yield enhancement technology.

Another red-hot theme at this year’s SPI was storage, and many key industry players were invited to speak at the Storage Central stage, located in the heart of the storage exhibition. NEXTracker’s CTO Alex Au and storage integration director Josh Weiner led an interested crowd through a case study titled “Decapitate the Duck,” which focused on battery selection for our NX Fusion Plus storage-and-solar solution. The premise of their presentation centered on how artificial intelligence (AI) and communications allows system owner-operators to maximize and enhance their power plant performance. With integrated smart control technologies, the asset owners can better collect, aggregate, monitor and use this data to increase energy yield, for example.

NEXTracker CTO, Alex Au and Storage Integration Director, Josh Weiner talk about NEXTracker's integrated solar-and-solar solution during SPI 2017

NEXTracker CTO, Alex Au and Storage Integration Director, Josh Weiner, talk about NEXTracker’s integrated solar-and-storage solution. NX Fusion Plus, during SPI 2017

NEXTracker CEO Dan Shugar joined other industry executives for a panel discussion on the past and future evolution of cost savings in large-scale solar generation. He and the other panelists agreed that the role of data and systems intelligence will be critical in the transformation and modernization of the grid infrastructure into one based on low-cost, high-reliability smart renewable energy resources.

NEXTracker CEO Dan Shugar joined other industry executives to discuss halving large scale solar costs by 2030, during SPI 2017

NEXTracker CEO, Dan Shugar joined other industry executives to discuss halving large scale solar costs by 2030 during SPI 2017

Dan cited examples of where data-driven NX technologies have lowered the plant owners’ levelized cost of energy (LCOE) and will reduce LCOE even more in the near future. The accurate measurement of motor current “signatures” has led to improvements in component and system design as well as the ability to predict more accurately when maintenance is needed. Intelligent solar-and-storage systems like the NX Fusion Plus, which was on public display for the first time at SPI, will allow operators to harvest energy—and revenues—previously lost to curtailment and clipping. Dan also opined that the industry needs to do a better job of socializing the benefits and importance of how solar-and-storage systems and data-based intelligence will bolster grid reliability. 

Continuing the reliability topic, our global asset management VP Marty Rogers participated in one of the more engaging panels during SPI 2017, the annual PV magazine Quality Roundtable  (co-sponsored by NEXTracker). The panelists represented a diverse group of companies from across the materials, manufacturing, testing and systems integration communities.

The roundtable discussion actually encompassed three interrelated hot-button topics—quality, reliability and durability. Marty described how data acquisition and analysis plays a critical role in designing for reliability from the ground up and managing quality along the entire supply chain, through installation and commissioning, and over the lifetime of the system via smart operations and maintenance practices.

He pointed out the importance of doing one’s due diligence and selecting ISO-certified component suppliers that have quality, reliability and durability engrained in their culture and processes. Marty also noted how NX is always continuously enhancing its tracking systems through customer feedback, data sharing and connectivity, with a team focus on evaluating every customer return for root cause, corrective actions and product improvement.

NEXTracker VP of Global Asset Management and Support, Marty Rogers joined the PV Magazine 6th Quality Roundtable during SPI 2017

NEXTracker VP of Global Asset Management and Support, Marty Rogers joined the PV Magazine 6th Quality Roundtable during SPI 2017

As Marty explained, designing for reliability increasingly means designing systems for bidirectional communications and predictive analytics, designing for independence and a lifetime of uninterrupted system production over a 30-year-plus lifetime, and designing for lower operational expenses. In case you missed it, here is a recently published white paper called, “Tracking your solar investment,” by Marty where he goes into detail on lowering OPEX with Digital O&M.

All these goals depend on an ever-increasing stream of accurate, actionable data and a holistic systems intelligence approach—something that NEXTracker will deliver as we help our customers build the power plants of the future.