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INTERVIEW - Digitalization is helping renewables transition from tariff-aided growth to efficiency-aided growth

Balki G. Iyer, Photo by Utopus Insights

August 28 (Renewables Now) - Using digitalization to make renewables more cost-effective, reliable and mainstream in the next five to 10 years is the mission of energy analytics software company Utopus Insights, recently acquired by Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

Renewables Now talks to its Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer, Balki Iyer, to find out how US-based Utopus Insights, which continues to operate independently post the acquisition, intends to fulfill this mission by increasing the efficiency of renewable energy generation.

"We are at a pivotal point in the energy industry and in the history of the world in a broader sense," Mr Iyer says. "Driven by digitalization, we are experiencing a rapid growth of data and analytics in every aspect of the modern world."

In renewables-sourced power generation "we are transitioning from an era of tariff-aided growth to an era of efficiency-aided growth," Iyer says.

Cutting costs is no longer about CAPEX; OPEX is now in focus

So far, cutting costs in the industry was mainly focused on the CAPEX side. Technologies improved significantly. Financing and project management costs also marked a notable drop, allowing wind power costs to go down five times in the last seven years, and solar has done even better, lowering the price per watt of installed capacity five times in five years.

"There has been a dramatic drop in CAPEX pricing in recent years, but now cost-cutting focused on CAPEX has hit a plateau. Long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Contract terms are now shorter and revenue maximizing options are becoming mainstream everywhere. This would not be possible unless you remove uncertainty and improve predictability of generation. This is where data comes in."

"The next phase of the industry development is logically turning to leverage technology to bring down the OPEX and maximize revenue from assets," the Chief Growth Officer at Utopus Insights, notes.

Where opportunities for maximizing revenue await

"There is a big opportunity for improvement when we focus on the entire spectrum of data that wind turbines and solar panel inverters generate today, and the fact that the large majority of operators still use less than 10% of that data on a day-to-day basis," Iyer says. “This untapped data is pure gold if mined and used smartly, with the help of digital tools like ours.”

Utopus Insights has identified four major opportunities for OPEX improvements and is developing its energy analytics Software as a Service (SaaS) products accordingly.

First and foremost, the company’s solutions strive to bring all the data gathered by different components of the energy asset at hand and give historical and real-time descriptive analytics on a digital dashboard that can be used by anyone from the chief executive in an organization, to an O&M manager or a site manager, on a scale from several kW to several hundred MW.

The second set of tools, developed by Utopus, is about bringing resource and output forecasting to the highest level possible using predictive analytics. Improving the accuracy of power output forecasts will allow companies to leverage market imbalances and sharpen day-ahead and intra-day energy bid strategies, thus making renewables a little bit more dispatchable  and competitive with conventional energy sources.

The third set of tools uses prescriptive analytics for failure prediction across the entire system of connected devices from the wind turbine/solar panel to the substation, thus leveraging digital algorithms to predict failures and optimize asset maintenance.

Last, but not least, Utopus’ tools can be used for business orchestration of an entire portfolio of resources across multiple sites and equipment types.

Vestas acquisition and beyond - 3,000 customers in 30 countries by H1 2019

Vestas Wind Systems A/S (CPH:VWS) agreed to acquire Utopus Insights Inc in a USD-100-million (EUR 80m) deal in February this year.

"Acquiring Utopus Insights significantly improves Vestas' existing capabilities for advanced analytics and integrated energy software solutions. We will now be able to provide our customers improved forecasting, output optimisation and coordination between assets, and support the larger energy ecosystem's increased uptake of renewable energy," Anders Runevad, Vestas' Group President and CEO, said at the time.

Today, Utopus Insights continues its business as a stand-alone entity under Vestas Service.

"Vestas is planning to use Utopus tools to better plan and manage their own operations," Balki Iyer notes, adding that "Utopus is also in discussion with a lot of customers who are also Vestas customers, but, in general, our customer base goes beyond wind and even beyond solar, as some of our customers are large utilities or grid operators.

The acquisition has, of course, accelerated Utopus Insights business development as well.

"We are still chasing the same goals we had prior to the acquisition, but now, having the power to leverage Vestas partnership where relevant, the timeframe for achievement of these goals has shortened," Iyer comments.

"We have established customer engagements to roll out our services in the next few months and we expect to have about 3,000 customers in 30 countries by the first quarter or by mid-next year at the latest," Iyer predicts. "We’re excited to help lead companies toward an agile, integrated and transformational data-driven digital journey."

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Browse all articles from Mariyana Yaneva

Mariyana is a founding member of the Renewables Now team. With nine years of professional experience in renewables she has built strong expertise in the wind industry and French-speaking markets.

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