"Life of a solar project after the dust has settled" Part 2: Dealing with the monster consolidating excel spreadsheet

An important task of the solar asset manager is to monitor the overall performance of the PV generating asset. Often they have outsourced the live performance monitoring to a third party O&M provider. This O&M provider will typically send the PV asset manager monthly or weekly performance reports.

But PV asset managers increasingly want timely access to the performance data of their portfolio. And they want it at their fingertips. Sometimes they are frustrated with the time lag between actual generation and the outsourced reporting. But mostly they need timely data to produce their own internal management and financial reports.

In an ideal scenario, all PV installations in the PV asset manager’s portfolio are managed by the same PV monitoring system or by the same O&M service provider. PV portfolio owner/operators often start out with the best intentions to have performance measurement standardization of their asset portfolio.  But unless they control the entire value chain from development, to construction to ownership, this will be difficult to maintain: if a project or portfolio is offered to PV investors at an attractive rate of return, those standardization priorities often become secondary.

The PV asset manager will now need to log into the web portals of multiple PV monitoring systems to retrieve performance data. The complexity not only lies in maintaining different user names and passwords, but also in maintaining consistency with the definition of the performance parameters used by the different monitoring systems. Particularly with performance measurements for performance ratio and availability, they will observe a variety of definitions across different PV monitoring systems.

So what do PV asset managers do today to get timely access to consistent data across their entire portfolio?

Phase 1: Typically PV asset managers will initially choose the path of “lowest resistance”: This path that does not require any additional financial budget or senior management approvals. It will require an analyst to create a consolidating spreadsheet. The analyst will log into the different systems on a daily or weekly basis and download the raw data. Fresh out of business school, the analyst will load the spreadsheet with fancy macros to make adjustments to the data, the formatting and so on.  The spreadsheet will grow every day. Everybody is happy because the problem is solved. But either one of these scenarios happen. The spreadsheet has grown so big that one day it does not open any more. Or somehow it got corrupted and nobody knows exactly what happened to it, but the data can no longer be trusted. Or the analyst leaves the company and nobody quite understands the macros.

Phase 2: Invariably follows Phase 1. It often needs a crisis to obtain a financial budget. Some owner/operators will invest in creating their own database. The advantage is that they can set it up exactly as they want. But they need to have the necessary skill set in-house to deal with the various performance indicator definitions. And they will need to have skilled staff to maintain the database in the long run. An alternative way achieving automation is to work with an established PV monitoring aggregator, a company that has experience in dealing with data from other monitoring companies.

Whatever the choices are that PV asset managers make, they will need to bear in mind the main purpose of the consolidated data. They will need to ask themselves the question: “Do I need the data for live performance monitoring, for stakeholder reporting or for invoicing or for all of the above?”  There is little point in aggregating 5-minute data, if the live performance monitoring is outsourced to an O&M service provider. In such a case daily data is probably sufficient for daily performance management and reporting. 

It is going to be interesting to see which choices the solar asset management industry will adopt. But one thing is already clear: the days of the monster consolidating Excel spreadsheet are numbered…

Interested to find out more?

Read Part 1 in our series "Life of a solar project after the dust has settled", which deals with the challenges of managing project documents.

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