Over the past through years, I've had the opportunity to gauge growth in the solar industry in part through my annual attendance at the Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco. As with any new industry, PV solar isn't immune to growing pains, but each year the solar industry emerges not only stronger, but smarter. One very important key factor to getting smarter is through the management and measurement of all aspects of a solar project, especially at the industrial scale.
Simply saying "you can't manage what you don't measure" borders on cliche, but the fundamental truth that lay underneath that pithy phrase is undeniable. With the technology improvements and innovations I've seen displayed on the exhibition floor at Intersolar the past few years there is every reason to believe that solar power will continue to become cheaper, more reliable and more abundant with each passing year.
Technological challenges remain for solar energy, particularly in storage and distribution, but with the growth in the size and sophistication of the industry the ability to adequately measure performance and holistically measure an entire energy portfolio are becoming key factors in the industry's continued success and adoption.
Making solar more efficient
Innovation in providing industrial-scale measurement and management tools and processes is arguably more important than squeezing the last nano-watt of efficiency from a solar panel. For AlsoEnergy, building efficiency and sound management of large solar projects is their bread and butter. Co-founded in 2006 by Robert Schafer and Holden Cain, the two realized then the need for real-time software solutions that integrate renewable energy system performance with business and financial management.
"The biggest gains in improvement in efficiency now comes through better use of the (software and services) we provide," says Holden. "Whether that's helping manpower, understanding when to roll trucks or planning or just looking at the entire performance of a site."
Bringing their experience in hardware and software development to bear on the challenge led to the release in 2009 of PowerTrack, a cloud-based, fully scalable and customizable commercial energy management and monitoring platform that can provide real-time information on multi-site system performance, current and predicted weather and dozens of other data sources impacting the end-to-end performance of an entire energy portfolio. This information can then be integrated with a variety of back-office functions for invoicing, cost and carbon savings verification and other analytical tools that give project managers, owners and investors real-time alerts and reports to enable reliable, efficient system-wide operation.
PowerRes - PowerOperations
Debuting at the Intersolar Conference that just wrapped last week is AlsoEnergy's PowerRes, a portfolio management and monitoring package ideal for financiers and developers of residential solar lease programs. PowerRes was developed in partnership with Itron and uses the Itron Sentinel socket meter for cellular-based data acquisition.
PowerOperations is another offering highlighted at the Intersolar show. PowerOperations isan operations management workflow module that integrates with PowerTrack to increase operational efficiencies for maintaining peak performance of PV solar fields. Additionally, integrating PowerRes with PowerOperations enables operators to monitor thousands of residential sites in real-time.
AlsoEnergy currently monitors more than 1500 sites throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. With the introduction of PowerRes the residential lease market will help continue to drive the company's growth, which Schaefer says has doubled the past two years. It seems the solar industry is looking for what AlsoEnergy offers:
"The whole thing is, the key, a system that says 'this works as predicted' - and that makes it bankable. It's financial, it's an investment. It's risk, it's yield and liquidity, just like every other investment in the world."
What end-users need and want is cheap and reliable (and clean) energy. What investors and operators want is return on investment and the ability to operate as efficiently and reliably as possible.
The key to the new energy economy is not just generating clean energy, but managing the business of clean energy generation. As the industry shakes itself out, those that can best incorporate a holistic, integrated, comprehensive approach to managing and measuring their energy portfolios - in terms of both electrons and dollars - are the ones most poised for success. This holistic management approach is the business of AlsoEnergy and a vital key to the continued growth of the solar industry.