“The photovoltaic power generation sector is rapidly changing under the pressure of aggregations, new business models and technological innovations. The transition in progress is leading to a process of superimposition of the activities of Operation and maintenance with higher added value to the purposes of the asset management of the solar plants. This is a challenge to be faced by those companies that, thanks to the digitalisation of industrial processes and administrative and financial ones, will be able to favor the upselling of the energy produced”.

Stefano Neri, president of TerniEnergia and Softeco, speaking in Milan at the event “Renewables to the challenge of market parity”, outlined a scenario of rapid transformation of photovoltaic O&M. What will be affirmed, in the Group’s vision that integrates the industrial and IT experience of the two companies, is a business model that in America has been called “beyond fit and forget”, which could be translated as “optimizing the plant and forget the old maintenance at fault”.

In front of an audience of over a thousand registered participants, including managers from companies in the sector, experts in the energy sector, professionals, professors and university students, who took part in the presentation of the Renewable Energy Report of the Energy and Strategy Group of the Polytechnic of Milan, President Neri addressed these issues in the session “The management of the installed park: the challenges of the O&M between technological innovation and business model”.

The photovoltaic sector and aggregations

“The existing photovoltaic park, despite the cumulative impact of a trickle of measures that has partly affected the returns – explained Stefano Neri – is the subject of a process of aggregation on the secondary market of utility scale plants. This process has reduced the number of investors and substantially changed its nature. From a pioneering and partially speculative phase, we have moved on to a new panorama, characterized by the concentration of specialized operators, attentive to economies of scale and focused on industrial plant management. These are specialized funds, large utilities and new players in distributed generation, which accept lower returns in exchange for a lower risk and a standardization of plant management. These operators demand a leap in quality from the O&M provider: companies that cut grass, wash panels or solve electrical problems are no longer enough. Today, higher value-added services are required, which ensure the return on investment and the profit from the sale of energy on the market, lowering the risk for the investor. It is in this context that new business models are born, such as that of aggregators, production side and consumption side, or that of demand response “.

The new business models

“New services – continued Neri – does not mean, however, only new technologies. Using drones for aerial inspections, automating data analysis processes, equipping plants with sensors and alarms, video surveillance of production sites will not be enough. We will witness a dual evolution: on the one hand there will be the “O&M Hybrid”, with direct employees of the proprietary companies that will deal with ordinary activities and with highly specialized external companies, which will provide advanced solutions. On the other hand, instead, a new model will be born that could be defined as “beyond fit and forget”, in which new subjects – endowed with industrial, digital and financial-administrative skills – will allow owners to concentrate on maximizing the return on investment, entrusting these players with the mission of increasing and optimizing plant efficiency. It will be a new function that will substantially lead to an overlap of O&M and Asset Management, creating a new class of intermediate operators, between energy producers and consumers. These new players, in fact, will live on the frontier of innovation in the operation phase, operating as consultants able to implement the state of the art technology in real time for the best operation of the plant. At the same time, they will evolve the concept of maintenance, transforming it into an activity of continuous improvement of the operation and profitability of the plant”.

The impact of new technologies

“Clarified that the drivers of this transformation will not be only those of technological innovation – concluded the president of TerniEnergia and Softeco – the challenge for the new operators of the photovoltaic O&M will be to delineate the standards of improvement of a sector that has relatively few historical data available. In fact, it is a sector that only today, about ten years after the first Energy Bill, begins to enter the maturity phase, unlike sectors such as thermoelectric or Oil & Gas, characterized by consolidated activities and processes. The impact of digital technologies, in the definition of these optimization protocols and strongly requested operating standards, will be disruptive. Our Group expects, for the future, the assertion of those who will be able to supply fully digital platforms, able to automate all processes and to introduce the concept of Smart O&M”.