It was standing room only during some sessions at this year’s Solarplaza Solar Asset Management conference in San Francisco. More than 400 attendees gathered to learn about the latest trends and insights in solar asset management and O&M. Now in the 3rd year running, the conference seems to continue to pick up steam and is regarded by many as the leading conference on asset management in the solar industry.
Already by the first coffee break I had heard the word “community solar” 50 times. It turned out to be one of the trending topics at the conference. To make community solar sound even sexier, it is now often referred to as “Distributed Energy 2.0”. Many players are reallocating resources to this market segment. I think the concept of community solar is very noble: giving homeowners with unsuitable roofs or renters access to solar. I also see the beauty of this business model for developers and EPCs. But as the audience rightly pointed out, the asset management of these projects has potential to turn into a real nightmare. The effort to service these assets has been largely underestimated. Therefore many of these projects do not have enough management fees embedded in them to service these assets properly. I hope for the industry that the financing community is taking note and will force developers to readjust their financial assumptions for asset management.
The new kid on the block for this conference was storage. Although there are not many operational solar + storage assets to manage yet, it felt like this was just around the corner. My key take-away from the storage sessions was that operations and maintenance of solar + storage sites is a lot more time sensitive than regular solar. This has to do with the type of contracted revenue streams, such as demand charge management or capacity contracts, which are very sensitive to outages. It sounds like the industry will need to move to a whole new level to address these requirements adequately. This will involve very close monitoring of battery status, faster resolution of communication outages and easy availability of spares. I predict that case studies of storage O&M will be one of the hot topics for next year’s conference.
As at previous Solarplaza conferences, one of the highlights was Cedric Brehaut’s market analysis of the solar asset management and solar O&M landscape. The US addressable market for cumulative installed solar is expected to reach about 45 gigawatt in 2016 (source: SoliChamba and GTM Research). This fast growing installed base is attracting many new players and business models. Cedric observed that PV asset management software is now officially a market, driven forward by 3megawatt. One of the key trends for the industry is the need for software solutions to integrate well between different horizontal applications (monitoring, asset management, CMMS, CRM, etc.). In this context and also in connection with grid integration, cyber security is a challenge that is starting to raise its head. I suspect that we will hear much more on this topic next year!
A big thanks to the folks at Solarplaza for putting on engaging and relevant content and for enabling great network opportunities.