‘To Buy or to Build’… that is Often the Question for Solar

July 15, 2022 By 0 Comments

The world has been riveted with the failure of engineering visualized on our screens by the collapse of Champlain Towers in Florida a few weeks ago. These types of failures occur with regularity at most corporations, but luckily, our mistakes don’t lose lives and aren’t covered by the world’s media – they just hit our company and our careers.

For rapidly growing solar, where $148.6B of investments (132GW of new installations) were made in 2020 Bloomberg New Energy Finance — means a lot of new decisions on how best to optimize each one of these.

Technology (Digital Asset Management, AI, Digital Twins, CMMS, RealTime Monitoring) help you to deal with the pressure to:

·     Grow your portfolio

·     Maximize the yield out of that portfolio

This technology, will be a competitive advantage to accomplishing the above, so making the right build vs buy decisions are crucial.

Ultimately using Data and technology to faster and more accurately pinpoint and solve any and all problems keeping your plants from operating at peak capacity means your teams can focus all your expertise on the right technical decisions to speedily fix them.

After all no covid slowdown for solar, instead, all of you are… ‘speeding up’ as governments around the world strategically, begin to use renewables as the centerpiece of their economic recovery plans.

As you and your teams make Buy vs Build decisions to make your assets bankable, consider these questions carefully as you choose…

·     Reliability and availability of your Technology team

·     Worth of time and money

·     System security

·     Capacity to cope with market trends

·     The customization mystery

·     Planning for future growth

Buy or Build? What’s Right for You?

There are lots of reasons to be ‘Team Buy.’ In general, executives in Renewable Energy are the pioneering, self-sufficient types required by a sunrise industry. Their naturally preferred method is to ‘do-it-yourself.’

Starting from scratch? No problem. You have a strong working knowledge of your industry and are capable of learning what you don’t know. We’d positively recommend this approach — but ask you to address the following points before going down this path.

Tech Team Reliability

Do you have complete confidence in your IT team’s capability in building software? Will they be able to hire needed engineers who both understand solar and how to build enterprise grade products? What about when the project goes into its final mile? Will they be with you next year and the year after or might progress and knowledge be lost with them?

A software architect’s job is to make the complex… look easy. They’re like NBA basketball players…making us feel like we too could dunk 😊 only we were just tall enough.

Can your developers communicate clearly, both in code and with you? After all, they’ll need to do both effectively to build custom projects. Are you familiar with terms like technical deficits which will quickly turn will turn into technical debts?  Do you have budgets to scope well, build well, run well? Staff who’ll be able to pull it off? Would you be able to hire them or are most of the crazy good techies working at Google or Goldman Sachs?

On the buy side, kick the tires of their people, behind the slick sales. Do they have a strong 1st tier team capable of building the platform they say they have, or have they just grabbed and cemented a few pieces together and put a glossy finish on it? Check out the capability of their whole team. Numbers don’t matter as much as whether the team has the chops, which they say they do? Can they get into the nitty-gritty of details of solar plants with hundreds of thousands of panels with you or are they skimming the surface?

Like the building in Florida, failures are usually due to poor planning and poor maintenance. Engineering, architecture, and software are no different. Once the software is built, of course, regular maintenance, upgrades, bug fixes become an issue and must be planned and budgeted for as well, the same as you do for your solar assets.

Worth of Time. And Money

Next is time. And money. And of course, time which will become money. No matter what, software projects take 12-24 months to build. Large scale software products need large-scale budgets – with upfront investments. They also need long term management just like each of your solar assets.  For some reason, software projects usually end up being over budget and under-scoped circling back to the title of this section. Oh, and their chances of success? “55% of IT professionals indicated…development project failed due to lack of time, staff, and budget.”  Scalers

A company going down this path needs to consider whether building yourself will make your life easier or involve all night calls, which begin in the middle of dinner? Ultimately, it may help you but what will your company be losing in the 12-24 months while you’re distracted managing the building of software, instead of your actual priorities – generating revenue?

System Security

Security for enterprises is a major issue which keeps gaining a lot more importance lately, as it should. For solar, with hundreds of connections – every connection adds to points of vulnerability which will affect future security. The assumption should not be that building will automatically equal more security – hiring internal staff with security expertise is again not easy. Expert vendors should have plans in place for not only current threats but emerging ones as well. For the buy route, hard questions should be aimed about best practices; also be expecting that they be sharing their expertise which you too can employ?

The Customization Mystery

Customization is total, if you choose the build route, however, customization works with vendors too. Perhaps half-way is the answer. Find a vendor who can provide a stable product – but also customize to your specific needs. Discuss their product roadmap, maybe what you’re looking for is already on their list of priorities – creating a win-win for everyone.

Planning for Future Growth

The last issue is growth, your company’s growth. You’ll have to make sure that whichever software you choose, it will scale with your growth plans. What if all your projects by 2025 have storage capacity built-in? Check to make sure the vendor has handled a larger scale and has the ability to expand with your needs? Likewise, with the in-house route, you’ll have to ensure your own software is capable of your handling your tomorrows not just what you do today.

We help you centralize all your critical data from SCADA to weather forecasts to power forecasts all in one platform, regardless of manufacturer or database. If your data is already on a CMMS, we can build advanced analytics on top. We share Digital Twin Data with you as well on an open, extensible platform. Our aim is helping our industry win the energy race.

If getting the most “juice” out of your portfolio is a need, we’re here and can answer these above questions with confidence.

We can help you from centralizing all your critical data to building the highest level of Digital Twin AI based, advanced analytics available to optimize your plants. We also share our Digital Twin data on our open and extensible platform with you, which means you can ‘geek out’ and customize on top. Our aim is helping our industry win the energy race.

Try out our Plant Audit on one of your assets. We know we can help you maximize the ‘yield’ out of each single plant in your portfolio. Wishing you the best of luck whichever route you choose and of course, I’m at least grateful, I’m not a civil engineer and surgeon responsible for life and death.

Author: Kitty Chachra, CRO at Quadrical Ai

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