SolarPower Europe recently hosted a virtual debate during the Digital Energy Festival For Africa to explore how digitalisation is impacting the growth of solar power in emerging markets.
The session was hosted by Merce Labordena, Senior Policy Advisor at SolarPower Europe and an expert panel of speakers. Together, they identified five areas in which digitalisation is driving growth in the deployment of solar solutions.
Software to boost solar performance
Hendrik Broering, CPO at AMMP Technologies, focused on the needs and challenges unique to Africa. The business models and electricity markets operate differently and system uptime is vital in countries where supply is intermittent.
For example, in a country like Nigeria, there is an incentive to use digital technologies to boost uptime. Monitoring software solutions that focus on ensuring solar PV performance are becoming more popular for this reason.
Artificial Intelligence and drones
Jörg Althaus, regional manager for India, Middle East & Africa for Solar Energy and Global Segment Coordinator PV Power Plants, TV Rheinland, explained that even long before COVID-19, digitalisation has been changing the nature of the sector.
The use of software to ensure everyone speaks the same language is increasing, together with the use of drones and AI. Remote geodata collection is more frequent through the use of dedicated software and sensors, providing vital data throughout all project phases.
Asset management in the time of COVID-19
Chanda Nxumalo, director of Harmattan Renewables, highlighted the benefits of digitalisation for asset management during the pandemic. It’s increasingly vital for developers, IPPs and lenders to have a centralised record of the solar plant information. Using the data generated from ground monitoring stations is important throughout the project lifecycle.
Due to travel restrictions and COVID-related lockdowns, a minimal amount of people have been on site. However, using digitalisation has allowed teams to gain on-site information regarding testing, inspection and verification, etc. All that data can now be centralised by using specific software, and is accessible to all.
Digitalisation increasing accuracy of data
Emilio Marconell, COO of Powertis, mentioned that the current tools are insufficient and classic generation models have clear limitations. Accurately tracking misalignment issues, thermal losses and irradiance variation for example is challenging, even more so now with bifacial models.
Accurate digital tools are being developed to ensure project developers have a clear understanding of the new development and a correct levelized cost of energy (LCOE).
Digital innovation for mini and microgrids
Peter Lilienthal, the founder of HOMER Energy, explained that small micro and mini-grids are being used as innovation platforms. Hybrid systems are becoming more popular and because they are smaller and more numerous, innovation is easier. Innovation can be seen in the use of remote monitoring, remote metering and pay-as-you-go meters etc. These grids are also driving renewable uptake, and in turn driving the need for new storage, load management and tariff solutions.
Digital Energy Festival
The following sessions are still available to watch on demand as part of the Digital Energy Festival for Africa:
The Digital Energy Festival for Africa in 2020 was hosted jointly by four of Clarion Events’ leading energy brands Africa Energy Forum, African Utility Week & POWERGEN Africa (now Enlit Africa) and the Oil & Gas Council’s Africa Assembly and the leading energy journal ESI Africa and sister publication of Power Engineering International, providing six weeks of compelling content.