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July 30, 2019
Spotlight on utility-scale solar
By: Cristian Corbetti

When it comes to power generation technologies, solar is hot. Attribute this to a continuously decreasing levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), low barriers to entry and a frenzy of players working together to find their place in the sun. But with so many parties involved—and numerous handovers throughout the end-to-end development process—it’s getting harder to deliver against targets for project timelines, costs and LCOE.

What will it take to get to the next stage of utility-scale solar development? Accenture research and analysis point to six key themes, with the first serving as a critical foundation for the rest:

  1. An end-to-end approach, powered by digital, is required.
  2. Solar developers need to track project execution from the earliest concept phase—when the LCOE estimates and financial case are developed—through to operational start-up. And they need to examine both the commercial and operational sides of a project. Commercial aspects include tracking project costs and the LCOE of a project/asset during its life cycle; operational factors include managing the flow of documents, materials as well as tracking construction progress, workforce productivity and interfaces across different project stakeholders.

    Digital approaches enable end-to-end visibility and management—making it easier to optimize capabilities across partners and functions, to speed up engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) activities adopting agile mindset and, ultimately, to maximize the net present value (NPV) of a project at every stage.

  3. Front-end data and analytics are key to optimize LCOE.
  4. Analytics, besides being used for operational performance optimization, are required across the origination, business development and conceptual design phases, the most commercially competitive area. And there are large data sets including site selection parameters, surface optimization and panel orientation, assessment of solar resource, future energy prices, power purchase agreement (PPA) terms, current and future technical specifications, cost and performance data on modules and tracking systems, and expected operations and maintenance (O&M) costs.

  5. Collaboration on the cloud is paramount to commercial and operational management of partners.
  6. A collaborative digital environment simplifies document management and version control of the contract and associated project documents. It enables central management of and access to design documents, purchase orders and permits and licenses. And it creates digital audit trails of communications related to variations, such as clarification loops between engineers and suppliers, or quality checks with subcontractors on the field.

  7. Invest in digital construction including robotics, supply chain and digital worker.
  8. Improve the installation process by investing in digital construction—starting with analytics. Data-driven insights help to increase visibility into construction progress, including materials in the supply chain. Other digital construction investments to explore: autonomous vehicles for terrain excavation and movements, real-time tracking technologies for field workers positioning, wearables and extended reality solutions to provide remote support to field workers.

  9. Enhance cybersecurity resilience while increasing readiness for regulatory compliance.
  10. As solar capacity grows in size and prominence, so do risks of cyber attacks to solar assets and, by extension, to the entire grid. Strengthen cybersecurity investments and practices for renewables with an eye not only toward addressing compliance with existing regulations, but also with a goal of adopting leading practices for cyber resilience and fast-response.

  11. Assess O&M impact on design and LCOE.
  12. While solar farm O&M used to be simple—cleaning panels and regularly replacing inverters—it’s becoming more complex. In the journey to utility-scale solar generation, continually assess the impact of O&M technology choices and maintenance approach—then confirm those learnings are passed to the next project.

Addressing these six themes is critical to the future success of players that want to grow their solar portfolios. Digital is a key enabler, and those investing in digital are better positioned to address the themes and capture the related opportunities. For recommendations on where to focus, explore our full-length report, Lighting the path: The next stage in utility-scale solar development, which defines key digital capabilities generators can use to create new value and performance.

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