22 Reasons Why Your Counterparty Should Prioritize You

22 Reasons Why Your Counterparty Should Prioritize You

This article was originally published on the Solar Builder Magazine website. They asked us to share the latest trends in the industry, specifically — where should owners and operators focus their efforts? Here is what Nikhil Vadhavkar, co-founder and CEO, had to say. He is an MIT engineer, Y combinator alum, and PV system remote sensing expert.

22 Reasons Why Your Counterparty Should Prioritize You

Each year, we publish a global aerial inspection report that details key findings and trends from the last 12 months. This year’s dataset is the largest ever, drawing from 22 GW of Raptor Maps PV system inspections in 27 countries. Given that we have historically achieved 3x annual growth, this was expected. “22” still managed to surprise us, as it was also the average number of times a data owner shared the results of an inspection report with a collaborator or counterparty. The reasons behind this may surprise you as well.

Overview of the Global Report

Our global report details the frequency and magnitude of underperformance uncovered via aerial inspection and delivered through our software. Aerial inspection is a technique mandated by owners and operators to meet commissioning, preventative maintenance, and warranty inspection requirements. Aerial inspection fuses site-specific schematics with thermal and color image data captured under specific conditions by unmanned or manned aircraft.

From the 22 GW data subset used, we found that 1.9% of the total plant capacity was affected, amounting to a net present value (NPV) of $435 million. The affected capacity in the global reports has fluctuated from year-to-year, reflecting remediations, new anomalies, changing asset management practices, and a trend towards more granular (e.g., IEC-compliant) inspections.

Quantifying Collaboration

In this year’s global report, we included a new statistic: collaboration. We discovered that, on average, the data owners share their PV system inspection results with 22 other users. This includes both the synthesized analysis and the original, unmodified aerial inspection data. These users range from collaborators within the data owner’s organization (e.g., an O&M authorizing a field technician to review the results) to users in counterparty organizations (e.g., an owner sharing the analysis with a module manufacturer, or vice versa).

Above is a first-of-its-kind solar industry network graph depicting collaboration between counterparties taken from the 2021 Global Solar Aerial Inspection Report. 

The above image is an industry network graph of a subset of the data. Smaller clusters tend to be within an organization, and longer lines indicate collaboration between organizations. 

The most frequently shared analyses were IEC TS 62446-3:2017-compliant inspections for commissioning and warranty claims, and inspections incorporating on-site pyranometer data. The data and our customer interactions indicate that by leveraging software to collaborate with counterparties, owners and operators receive more positive resolutions from EPCs and module manufacturers. Additionally, owners have become more sophisticated and are setting more appropriate thresholds for remediation, which has reduced the barrier to collaboration with their O&M.

This year, we have also seen more engagement from module manufacturers, both as direct customers and as counterparties. Several module manufacturers have either directly accepted IEC-compliant analyses for warranty claims, or have enabled Raptor Maps customers to re-stratify findings on IEC-compliant data based on factory guidance.

Industry at the Tipping Point

The solar industry is already more relationship-driven than most, and we wanted to find out why users have an increased need to collaborate with each other. We took a deeper dive to not just answer “Why?” but to understand “Why now?”. Here’s what we found:

Transparency

The traditional mental model for an inspection report gives us two ends of a spectrum. On one end, there is the original data (which can be hundreds of pages), that requires expert interpretation and inference. On the other, is a high-level analysis detailing financial impact or simply an indication that the work was performed. Sharing only the former can create confusion and cause a “data overload” while sharing the latter may feel like a “sugarcoat.” 

Software solves this problem and eliminates this false dichotomy by drawing from a data model in which users can start at a high level, and, if desired, click down to the underpinning data. Software also enables the solar industry to access data products tailored for end-users, from field technicians and performance engineers to asset owners to in-house software developers.

Standardization

As evidenced by the industry network graph, the relationships between counterparties in the solar industry are complex. Even parties that attempt to standardize are often faced with legacy agreements or other constraints that will result in contracting with multiple parties performing partially-overlapping functions. 

Standardization of a solar-specific data model and publicly-available documentation to access and manipulate that model ensures that data does not remain siloed by individual agreements. Furthermore, enforcement of industry standards, such as data capture standards, ensures that the input data and method of analysis is consistent. In the case of aerial inspection, this has increasingly become the case. 

Benefits of this standardization that we have observed include:

  • Establishment of a benchmark with a commissioning inspection, which can be compared to preventative maintenance inspections year-over-year
  • O&M companies utilizing data capture standards to develop hybrid programs (with both in-house pilots and turnkey services)
  • Asset owners unifying analytics from preferred asset managers and O&M vendors with legacy contracts or regional providers
  • Eliminate duplicate costs and time lost when investigative inspections are requested by module manufacturers

Prioritization

Solar industry professionals are among the busiest, and increased telepresence has created an “always-on” culture. This means that collaborators and counterparties are constantly competing for attention. Our most significant finding is that those who leverage standardization, transparency, and collaboration are prioritized. They provide all needed evidence to achieve a positive outcome in the most user-friendly way possible, resulting in concise and effective communication. They earn bandwidth and time on the counterparty’s calendar. Faster resolutions translate to an increase in the internal rate of return (IRR) and enable more assets to be managed per head.

Reaction to Externalities

COVID-19 changed the outlook for the solar industry in 2020 and 2021. In addition to new installation delays, solar operators have sought to minimize physical movement. It has been especially difficult for owners and managers, who typically do not “turn wrenches,” to justify site visits. The need for increased awareness without a physical presence is the reason why there are so many Zoom meetings on your calendar, and this same drive has necessitated an increased reliance on software.

Causes of Underproduction

The global report also revealed the most frequent causes of underproduction in utility-scale and C&I assets in the past year. The study encompassed over 70 million modules, 92 module manufacturers, and 1,126 PV systems. On average, Raptor Maps inspections revealed that 1.9% of power production is affected, compared with 1.6% from the previous year. 

Classifications included in the study include functional units, such as off-nominal inverters and trackers, environmental conditions, such as shading and soiling, and module-level findings, such as cracking and activated bypass diodes. 

As detailed earlier, the technique used for data collection and analysis was aerial inspection, which fuses site-specific schematics with thermal and color image data captured under specific conditions by unmanned or manned aircraft.

Raptor Maps 2021 Global Report Functional Unit Findings Chart

The figure above displays the percent of production affected by functional units within a PV system, including inverters, combiners, trackers, strings, and modules. String and combiner anomalies were the largest cause of production impact, while module-level impact surprisingly outpaced inverter impact this year. The module-level anomalies are further stratified in the global report.

Modules from 92 manufacturers are included in the report. Of the total number of modules inspected, 84% were Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Tier 1 modules. The most common module technology was polycrystalline. 

Looking to the Future

With the renewed interest in renewable energy and climate tech, the solar industry no longer flies under the radar. Any way we slice it, whether it’s capital deployed, assets built, assets under management, or kWh of renewable energy produced, the expectations of solar industry professionals will continue to increase. Software is now a requirement, and we all must do our part to collaborate effectively, achieve positive outcomes, and keep the (proverbial) solar flywheel spinning.

 

Contact us for more information. Technical information regarding data collection protocols, sample contracts, and API documentation are available in our Knowledge Hub.

Press Release: Raptor Maps Releases 2021 Global Solar Aerial Inspection Report

Press Release: Raptor Maps Releases 2021 Global Solar Aerial Inspection Report

Software company reveals record-high collaboration between users in annual benchmarking report

Above is a first-of-its-kind industry network graph illustrating the collaboration between users in the Raptor Maps software on a subset of data. Smaller clusters tend to be sharing reports within an organization, and longer lines indicate collaboration between organizations.

 

BOSTON–Raptor Maps, a leading provider of solar lifecycle management software, released its third annual report on causation and frequency of PV system underperformance. The company utilized its solar data model to query 22 GW of utility-scale and C&I PV systems across 27 countries.

This report leveraged data collected by aerial inspection, a technique specified by owners and operators for commissioning, preventative maintenance, and warranty inspections. Aerial inspection fuses site-specific schematics with thermal and color image data captured under specific conditions by unmanned or manned aircraft.

The results are available for download here.

“This year, we were surprised that each online report was shared to an average of 22 additional users,” reveals Nikhil Vadhavkar, co-founder and CEO of Raptor Maps. “The data owners are authorizing more counterparties to access raw and synthesized data. In particular, we have seen an increased willingness from module manufacturers and EPCs to leverage this data to provide owners and operators with positive resolutions.”

The study encompassed over 70 million modules, 92 module manufacturers, and 1,126 PV systems. On average, Raptor Maps inspections revealed that 1.9% of power production is affected, compared with 1.6% from the previous year. Classifications included in the study include functional units, such as off-nominal inverters and trackers, environmental conditions, such as shading and soiling, and module-level findings, such as cracking and activated bypass diodes.

The global report comes on the heels of a BloombergNEF (BNEF) report forecasting up to 209 GW of new solar PV installations in 2021. 84% of the modules analyzed in the Raptor Maps report are classified as BNEF Tier One. Industry tailwinds include net zero targets from governments and corporations, a stable supply chain, and overall favorable levelized cost of energy (LCOE). Due to this growth, developers, owners, and operators have increasingly required software and data-driven analytics to meet their financial objectives at scale.

Contact us for more information. Technical information regarding data collection protocols, sample contracts, and API documentation is available in our Knowledge Hub.

How to Select a Vendor for Aerial Thermography of PV Systems

How to Select a Vendor for Aerial Thermography of PV Systems

Aerial thermography is now the rule, rather than the exception in the solar industry. Requests for proposals will include a scope such as “Perform an aerial thermography analysis of 100% of the PV modules using a qualified supplier with appropriate expertise on an annual basis,” and include specific requirements for use cases such as commissioning, preventative maintenance, and warranty claims.

Aerial thermography has become the standard for utility-scale, commercial and industrial (C&I) for the commissioning, operation, and merger and acquisition phases of the solar lifecycle.

What is Aerial Thermography?

Aerial thermography is the most efficient way to inspect operational PV systems and has replaced IV curve tracing as the preferred method. In short, aerial thermography involves an aircraft (unmanned or piloted) with a thermal and color camera, flown in a specific pattern with data captured according to applicable standards (such as the IEC) subject to certain environmental conditions. Most importantly, aerial thermography involves analyzing and contextualizing the findings to increase PV system production and minimize cost and risk.

An aerial thermography inspection being performed through a drone (UAS). 

 

 

The Vendor Landscape

As this method grew in popularity, many vendors jumped to capitalize on this new and growing opportunity, and there have been 2 common approaches:

  1. Drone hardware and service vendors that view solar aerial thermography as another type of asset for inspection
  2. Solar inspection vendors primarily driven by services and a single inspection technology, such as piloted aircraft

The Raptor Maps approach is solar-specific software. Our emphasis is on input data, advanced analytics, and benchmarking. We use industry standards to determine the right hardware and the best methodology to capture data depending on the customer needs. Customers can either self-perform data capture or leverage Raptor Maps for the turnkey service.

This article will focus on the necessary aspects of an aerial thermography software solution and enable customers with an aerial thermography need to educate themselves, ask the right questions, and make informed decisions.

 

Feature Raptor Maps Solar Software Airplane-Only Inspection Vendors Drone Vendor
Adherence to IEC TS 62446-3:2017 X X
Widely Accepted for Commissioning, O&M, and Warranty Claims Some X
Import or Request Non-Thermal Data and Analytics to Create Your System of Record X X
All-inclusive Pricing with No Hidden Fees X Some
Original Inspection Data and Reports Shareable with Counterparties at System Level X Some
API Integration to Connect to Your Software Tools X X

 

The Importance of Software for Aerial Thermography

 

Software enables PV system owners and operators to create both immediate and long-term value. 

It begins with verifying input data quality, creating a digital model, and ends with a portfolio-wide assessment of operational risk and findings. These findings can be shared with internal and external stakeholders, such as owners, technicians, module manufacturers, EPCs, and more to drive action and remediation. 

Software that manages the solar lifecycle is purpose-built to provide output files and formats that are most useful to a given counterparty, without the need for reinspection.

Below are some considerations for specifying an aerial thermography solution:

Solution Should Increase Efficiency and Meet SLA

  • Identify, classify, localize, and prioritize findings to drive action
  • Collaborate with counterparties in-app via shared reports and original data
  • O&M and IE teams can make data-driven decisions to deploying labor and capital resources effectively
  • Scale seamlessly as you develop and acquire new portfolios of utility-scale and C&I assets

Solution Output Should be Accurate

  • Support multiple inspection and analysis levels
  • Detect anomalies from inverter down to cell level
  • Provide defensible data for warranty claims and commissioning inspections
  • Minimize false-negative and false-positive rates in data and findings.

Solution Should Provide Original, Auditable Data 

  • Data proved to be captured and analyzed following the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) TS 62446-3:2017 standards for aerial thermography solar PV inspections
  • Integration of pyranometer data to prove minimum irradiance level during the inspection
  • Original radiometric thermal and color data provided for the entire PV system without false blending anomalies
  • Data and capture conditions can be reviewed systematically by equipment manufacturer and data scientists

Solution Should Reduce Risk

  • Benchmark your PV systems and portfolios against a statistically significant global dataset of findings and module manufacturers
  • Utilize features such as file storage and sharing at the PV system level to save critical documentation, such as warranty information
  • Seamlessly transition from EPC to O&M through the creation of a baseline commissioning assessment that can transfer to future asset management teams

We have taken a different approach to the industry’s adoption of aerial thermography because the software is a required component to scaling the solar industry to where it needs to be. We built our software to reduce bottlenecks, increase necessary collaboration, and provide required data products to improve industry-wide decision making. To learn more about Raptor Maps and our software and services, contact us.

Press Release: Raptor Maps Raises Series A

Press Release: Raptor Maps Raises Series A

Raptor Maps Raises $5M for its Solar Lifecycle Management Software

Company will use the funding to build on its successful software platform and meet customer demand

BOSTON, MA, August 26, 2020 — Raptor Maps, a solar software company, announced that it has raised a $5 million Series A, co-led by Blue Bear Capital, Data Point Capital, and Buoyant Ventures. Other participants include notable clean energy investors Congruent Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, along with Y Combinator.

Raptor Maps solves major growing pains for solar project finance, development, and asset management across an industry experiencing a 49% annual growth rate over the past decade. The current approach to developing and operating solar farms is increasingly untenable, resulting in demand for software and standardization of required processes and documentation.

“Our mission is to build software that enables the solar industry to scale,” explains Raptor Maps co-founder and CEO Nikhil Vadhavkar. “We are on track to be the system of record, and we already serve as the source of truth that our customers rely on for collaborative decision-making. The diversity of our investor base, including those that have experienced these pains firsthand, underscores that we cannot afford to take a reactive approach in the climate fight.”

To date, Raptor Maps has improved the project finance and asset management of over 25 GW in 35 countries. Its diverse and growing customer base includes global utility Enel Green Power, asset owner Greenbacker Renewable Energy, construction company McCarthy Building Companies, operations and maintenance (O&M) providers QE Solar and SOLV, and several publicly traded solar panel manufacturers.

“People think of solar as being just panels and wires,” says Ernst Sack of Blue Bear Capital, an investor specialized in energy, infrastructure, and climate solutions. “The industry has evolved to rely on a tremendously rich and complicated supply chain, with dozens of operations and hundreds of counterparties involved in any given plant—just as one would expect for other energy and infrastructure asset of this scale. Raptor Maps is building the digital operating system to coordinate and manage all of this activity for maximum productivity, efficiency, and safety.”

Raptor Maps attests that its deliverables are ten-fold more accurate, human and machine readable, and lower cost than traditional methods. The company has built a strong reputation for its software and aerial intelligence, and it will deploy this investment to build additional capabilities into its state-of-the-art solar data model.

“Raptor Maps is leading the charge to digitize the solar industry, resulting in both immediate and long-term benefit,” explains Daniel Hullah of Buoyant Ventures, a fund that invests in early stage, digital solutions that address climate risk. “The company makes solar power more valuable and accelerates the transition to clean energy.”

Several of Raptor Maps’ customers, such as Madison Energy Investments, require solar construction companies to use Raptor Maps at commissioning, and the O&M teams to use Raptor Maps annually. Other customers, such as solar panel manufacturers, direct asset owners to use Raptor Maps to create documentation for warranty claims.

“We’re thrilled to be investing behind the Raptor Maps founders and team,” says Mike Majors, Managing Partner at Data Point Capital. “Their deep experience in building cutting-edge software has positioned the company as the leader in the multi-billion dollar solar lifecycle management space.”

Client Highlight October 2020 –  Cypress Creek Renewables

Client Highlight October 2020 – Cypress Creek Renewables

In the first edition of the Client Highlight series, we’re honoring Cypress Creek Renewables, one of the United States’ leading solar and storage companies and a partner of ours.

 

 

Who is Cypress Creek Renewables?

 

Cypress Creek Renewables is a nationwide integrated solar and storage company that develops, owns, and operates an extensive portfolio of utility-scale and distributed solar PV systems. Based in North Carolina, Cypress Creek has over 1.6 GW in its portfolio, spanning 14 states.

In addition to managing its own portfolio, they also offer hire-able Operations & Maintenance (O&M) and Asset Management services. To date, the Cypress Creek O&M team maintains over 3 gigawatts of solar assets distributed around the country. As one of the country’s largest O&M providers, they offer 24/7/365 monitoring from their NERC-certified Networks Operation Center to ensure the maximum production of sites under their management. Their O&M and Asset Management services provide contract and compliance management, technical and financial performance review, and fleet optimization.

Cypress Creek’s impressive internal drone program was one of the first comprehensive drone programs developed in the industry, launched in 2016. To date, Cypress Creeks’ drone program has scanned multiple gigawatts of modules. They can comply with IEC 62446-3 standards, the global standard for aerial thermography, when necessary.

 

Our Story

 

Cypress Creek Renewables chose Raptor Maps to support their self-operated drone inspection and analyze the massive amounts of data produced. Through the years of our partnership, Cypress Creek has inspected hundreds of megawatts of solar PV systems and used our software to receive inspection analysis and reports. They quickly realized the value of combining aerial thermography with ‘boots on the ground’ when it resulted in minimized truck rolls and reduced O&M costs.

“Cypress Creek’s in-house Unmanned Aerial Systems team has performed over 10GW of aerial thermal inspections, including Raptor Maps and in-house analysis. With IR scanning, we see advantages with improvements to safety and cost reductions. 

With IR scanning, we were able to remove IV curve tracing, which involves physical interaction with electricity, from our annual maintenance.  Instead, we’re able to perform non-contact testing while increasing our efficiency and the quality of our results.

Comparing IV curve tracing to IR scanning, we can IR scan 100% of a solar facility in 5-10% the time, or less, it would take to IV curve trace. There is also equipment downtime associated with IV curve tracing that is not necessary when IR scanning. We are also able to now diagnose specific module anomalies to a precise location, which was not possible with IV curve tracing.

Additionally, we have been able to perform predictive maintenance on overhead medium voltage hotspots during off-peak hours, preventing un-planned site outages, equipment damage, or potentially dangerous events. We can also utilize our internal UAS fleets to react to events such and ground faults, underperformance, floods, natural disasters, without requiring technicians to be in the array. When responding to ground faults or underperformance, the use of our thermal UAS fleet turns days of searching into a few-minute flight.” 

– Mitchell Durant, Reliability Engineering Program Manager at Cypress Creek Renewables. 

Raptor Maps is proud to have Cypress Creek Renewables as one of our clients and partners. Their great depth of knowledge and experience in the industry is invaluable to us, and we’re inspired by their accomplishments.

 

Utility-Scale Solar PV Systems Face Higher Degradation Rates 

Utility-Scale Solar PV Systems Face Higher Degradation Rates 

Raptor Maps solar solutions

 

Study Finds Utility-Scale Solar Plants Degrade More Than Owners Initially Assume

 

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently published a report in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy. The study, “System-level performance and degradation of 21 GWDC of utility-scale PV plants in the United States”, assessed a fleet of 411 utility-scale PV systems, totaling 21.1 GWDC of capacity, commissioned from 2007 to 2016. These photovoltaic (PV) systems contributed more than 50% of the total solar-generated electricity in the United States. The study found that system-level degradation rates of utility-scale PV systems were higher than assumed when initially deciding power purchase agreement (PPA) rates. Ultimately affecting the potential internal rate of return (IRR). It also found that newer PV sites degrade less, and PV sites in high long-term average temperatures degrade more.

 

The study focused on system-level degradation rates rather than module-level degradation rates. In the past, studies have focused primarily on module-level performance and degradation, which ignores essential system components, such as trackers, inverters, and breakers. These methods ignore these component’s effect on the “balance of system” and a PV system’s overall performance. The researchers found that at the system-level, degradation rates are higher than the rates used in PPAs, due to the majority of PPA rates using the module-level degradation rate of 0.5%. System-level degradation must be weighed when forming PPAs. By only using the assumed rate of 0.5% degradation, and with all other associated costs considered, asset owners and investors can expect an IRR of 10%. However, they’ll only receive a 5.1% return if the actual degradation turned out to be 1.0%, and a lower 2.6% return if degradation is the suspected 1.3%.

 

Utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) ground-mounted systems are the largest sector of the overall solar market within the U.S., and the fastest-growing form of renewable power generation. Nevertheless, most of the utility-scale PV systems used in the study were commissioned after the year 2014, showing that the industry doesn’t have extensive data on long-term utility-scale PV systems performance, unlike smaller PV systems. Due to this, Asset Owners and investors should require more rigorous and frequent monitoring of their PV systems and rely on the collected data rather than the assumed degradation. This finding is in line with the study Raptor Maps produced for the 2020 Solar Risk Assessment Report, where we found that diode and string anomalies were 60% more frequent after the first year of operation, read more about that study here.

 

Raptor Maps solar PV string issue aerial thermography

String level anomalies in a utility-scale PV system identified through an aerial thermography inspection.

 

It is necessary to perform frequent and standardized preventative maintenance inspections to combat the lower rates of return and high degradation levels. However, completing inspections at this magnitude while a portfolio grows will be strenuous on the operations and maintenance (O&M) teams and resources. By utilizing aerial thermography, O&M can scale affordably, and reduce the stress on labor resources, allowing organizations to monitor the PV systems regularly. Aerial thermography, when coupled with software post-processing, equips O&M teams with a standardized inspection method, and transparent data to enable efficient site remediation and prevent future performance issues. Raptor Maps provides accurate post-processing analysis of aerial thermography data to reveal the performance of PV systems. Our turnkey services enable the fastest adoption of aerial thermography and analytics worldwide.

 

System-level degradation rates need to be considered when formulating PPAs, and rigorous monitoring is required to ensure the Solar Industry continues its substantial growth. Raptor Maps has analyzed over 20 GW of solar PV systems, spanning 30+ countries around the world. To learn more about Raptor Maps and our software and services, please contact us.

 

Raptor Maps Solar Risk Assessment report 2020