Solarplaza interviews Jorge Vieira, Product Manager at Critical Software. His company has developed a software tool that can be a game changer for solar plant operations and maintenance.
Can you describe Critical Software’s involvement in the photovoltaic industry? Where does the company add value and in which processes does Critical Software play a role?
Critical Software has been involved in the photovoltaic industry for several years now, providing software solutions for monitoring, management and reporting of Operations & Maintenance of photovoltaic installations. Critical Software provides solutions that help our customers to improve the performance of their business, while reducing operational costs. Our csEMS software is now used in managing over 300 plants, representing around 1 GW of installed capacity. Our solution provides much-needed features for online monitoring, enabling our clients to set up fully centralized control centers. The maintenance features allow distributed teams to have a common collaborative environment for improving productivity. The powerful analysis features allow operators to detect problems faster, which of course leads to increasing efficiency.
How do you see the role and importance of software in the Photovoltaic industry has been changing over the last few years?
Software is quickly becoming a crucial component in the effort to maximize the return on investment in the photovoltaic industry. With the growing pressure to reach unsubsidized tariffs and compete with other technologies, high quality monitoring systems, like our own csEMS, have become essential. It can enable plant operators to improve the generation efficiency by up to 5% and reduce operation costs up to 40%. These operational improvements can really increase the competitiveness of these projects and consequently the trust and reliability of PV.
What are the most common cases in which software play a critical role but often fails? What is the scope of the impact of failing software?
Software plays a critical role in the integration of data from multiple sources; allowing the extraction of information and knowledge from big amounts of dispersed data. Many times, due to the diversity of data sources and the complexity of data, software fails to be able to provide a consistent, unified and integrated view of the business. We have been involved in a lot of European R&D projects to define mechanisms to improve the effectiveness of our systems, improving the distributed capabilities of csEMS.
Can you describe the most impressive software failure you have come across and the impact this had on the system, revenues, etc?
One of the companies we have recently talked to has a full time guy manually processing a few Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are really only available at the end of the month. The biggest impact of such an inefficient method is the lack of capacity to timely react to problems. Such inefficient processes only allow companies to get a grasp of what has already happened with their business and/or investments but does not allow them to react on time, in order to avoid losses. The ability to detect problems in 'real-time' can avoid losses of thousands of Euros.
Operations and Maintenance is gaining increasing attention all around the world and O&M providers keep searching for the most professional tools. How can the concrete proposition of Critical to O&M service providers best be described?
Critical Software offers a comprehensive product (csEMS) for supporting Operation and Maintenance of solar power plants, enabling companies to monitor, manage and report over their entire plant portfolio. csEMS has a proven track record, having already been used by top O&M service providers. The key differentiation aspect of csEMS is the flexibility and the capacity to easily be adapted to the specific requirements and working mode of each company.
Is there a difference in the vision on the use of software amongst O&M providers from different parts of the world or different backgrounds?
We have found very different maturity levels in different geographies. In some geographies O&M is an established business with very well defined processes, where the usage of a software solution is crucial for the performance of O&M activities, while in other geographies we find companies using ad-hoc methodologies supported by unstructured tools.
What should plant owners and asset managers know about the software that’s being used for their assets? Or should they just leave this choice to the O&M provider?
Plant owners and asset managers should know if the software used by the O&M provider is enabling them to assure good performance of the power plants and is able to accurately report on what is going on in ‘real-time’. They are paying for a service, and if the O&M provider is not using the right tools for the job, they are not getting the most out of it.
Critical Software is one of the sponsors of the conference Solar Operations & Maintenance, taking place on 9 October in Milano.
Talking specifically about the Italian O&M market, what do you expect to be the main issue of discussion at this conference?
We expect the main discussion topics to be revolving around the issue of how we can reduce O&M costs and improve efficiency of O&M activities. We hope there will of course be special attention for the ways in which software solutions, such as ours, can support these improvements.
Imagine yourself in the year 2020. Looking back, what – in your opinion – will have been the major surprise in the O&M business in the coming years? Something that we did not foresee perhaps?
Module level AC monitoring combined with great analytics appears to be the future in solar. The issue with it today is that it’s too expensive (at the module level) to install and what is being missed is the ability to assess what's going on at the module level without any extra cost - it's staring us in the face but we just don't know it yet.