In 2022, the U.S. Energy and Information Administration (EIA) projected that solar is on track to contribute 46% of the utility-scale generating capacity to the U.S. power grid. And while the EIA also reports that the global supply of biofuels, crude oil, and outlying liquid hydrocarbons are expected to meet the world’s demand through 2050, over 69% of U.S. adults polled by the Pew Research Institute say they are in favor of prioritizing alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar.
It’s clear that the rise of renewable energy sources is an important trend on the global stage. With traditional energy sources causing irreversible damage to the planet, governments and individual entities are increasingly turning to clean energy sources like solar power.
However, solar power and the infrastructure needed to distribute it come with their own set of challenges. Supply chain issues and skilled-labor shortages plaguing the solar industry are very real, and they have indeed slowed the industry’s growth. But given the environmental, economic, and geostrategic forces aligning behind solar energy, the most pressing problem solar faces is to figure out how to deploy as many photovoltaic (PV) systems as humanly possible, as efficiently as possible.
Let’s discuss the biggest challenges facing the industry today and how leveraging project management software for solar can solve these pain points and help usher in the next era of solar energy expansion.
What Are the Biggest Challenges for Distributed Solar Development?
Some of solar’s biggest challenges are levelized cost, transmission, radiation intensity, land acquisition, and efficiency.
- Levelized Cost – Levelized cost of solar power is a term that calculates the cost of producing solar energy over the life of the system, taking into account maintenance and financing expenses. While the initial capital cost may be high for solar power plants, the long-term benefits and savings far outweigh the upfront investment.
- Transmission – Getting power to urban areas requires a steady stream of transmission, but solar power can present unique challenges. Without enough capacity in transmission infrastructure, costs increase, congestion rises, and even limitations on energy generation can occur. Solar project developers must weigh the benefits of locating near the most effective resources against the potential roadblocks of transmission barriers.
- Radiation Intensity – The sun’s power is undeniable, but its intensity can vary greatly depending on location and climate. This variation presents a challenge to the widespread adoption of solar power. The closer to the equator you are, the more solar energy you’ll receive annually, while those near the poles will experience very little.
- Land Acquisition – For large-scale operations like solar farms, land size directly impacts its power generation capabilities. The larger the surface area covered, the more potential for energy production. The biggest solar farms in the world are built in vast, open spaces. But what about countries with limited land and strict regulations? Unfortunately, the reality is that solar farm development may be stunted by land limitations and the permits needed to acquire it, especially those involving agricultural land.
- Efficiency – While a single square meter of solar panel could receive over 6 kilowatt-hours of energy in a day, the panel’s efficiency determines how much power can actually be used. Unfortunately, most commercial panels have an efficiency of less than 25%. The better the efficiency, the more costly the production process becomes. In other words, creating high-performance panels is possible, but it comes with a price.
Solving Solar’s Biggest Challenges by Leveraging Project Management Software
While solar operations software doesn’t necessarily solve the industry’s supply chain obstacles, it does work to increase the ability of companies to deploy solar infrastructure efficiently. It provides a unique set of benefits and advantages for companies who adopt it. Automation of processes, real-time analytics, and responsiveness to challenges make it essential for any solar firm.
By recognizing and addressing the biggest challenges in the industry, solar project management systems help organizations take conservation and the reduction of our carbon footprint to the next level.
The solar power industry has a lot of moving parts, and this creates complexity. Coordination of people and processes is crucial, and doing this manually can be inefficient and error-prone. This is where project management software for solar comes in.
By employing a project management platform, solar companies can effectively streamline their complex processes with real-time analytics and informative dashboards that provide organizations the ability to improve their efficiency, in addition to cutting down on errors and delays across the board.
Meeting Strict Regulations
Regulations prove challenging for many solar companies. Regulatory compliance is an essential part of doing business in the solar power sphere, and not adhering to regulations can have serious consequences for the entire company. However, complying with regulations can be time-consuming, expending valuable resources and often leading to delays.
Solar operations software can help ease this burden by automating the necessary reporting workflows, in addition to providing access to detailed analytics which can show adherence to guidelines and ensure solar companies can meet their compliance-level goals.
Keep Tabs on the Entire Supply Chain
Products delivered late or failing equipment can lead to serious losses for solar companies. With the help of supply chain management software, solar enterprises can keep a watchful eye on the entire supply chain from procurement to installation, ensuring that they have a full accounting of all the right parts when they need them. Furthermore, crews can keep an eye on inventory levels, ensuring that nothing runs out.
Real-Time Monitoring of Equipment
The equipment that goes into a solar installation is expensive, and it can become a challenge to keep it all operational. Proper maintenance and calibration of the equipment are essential to maintaining efficiency and productivity in the long run. With real-time monitoring tools, it’s possible to have visibility over the entire system solar ecosystem and proactively avoid issues.
Manage Workforce and Assigning Tasks with Ease
Managing a large workforce across different projects can be a nightmare for solar businesses without a proper project management system. When you employ project management software, it helps in automating the scheduling of people, assigning them to different projects, and managing their day-to-day activities. All these aspects, when automated, result in proof of efficiency and productivity, as well as lessening the burden on solar project managers.
Solar Deployment Management Software Key Features
Experts estimate that to get to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, we must install 455 gigawatts (GW) of additional solar capacity globally each year through 2030. For comparison, the total U.S. installed solar capacity stood at about 121 GW as of early 2022, and that of China, the world’s largest solar-energy market, at 350 GW. Each year, the world must deploy roughly as much solar as has ever been installed in its two largest economies.
To get there, the solar industry must solve three major long-term challenges. First, it must reduce the soft costs that comprise more than 60 percent of solar PV system outlays. Second, it must turn projects quickly to boost scale and slow the volume of project cancellations impacting the industry. Third, the solar industry must develop efficient supplier and subcontractor networks to enhance collaboration and efficiency.
Fortunately, a new class of intelligent software, collectively called solar deployment operations management, is arriving at just the right moment. These cloud-based solutions combine the strengths of project, asset, and work-management software to enable the tracking and managing of thousands of job sites and assets, multiple field crews in real-time, and much more.
Field Service Software for Solar Energy – With respect to reducing soft costs, solar deployment management solutions include features like standardized project templates, automated document generation, and easy-to-use mobile forms for field technicians. While every solar project has its unique challenges (and these systems are customizable to reflect that), standardization along with best practices cuts redundancy, avoids mistakes, and speeds up the pace of work. These systems also manage site candidates, approvals, and drawings, and they match deployment assets with job sites. They help cut soft costs even further by centralizing permitting workflows from submission to final approval.
Solar Operations Software – Shortening project timelines is an essential element to solving the long-term challenge of turning projects quickly. Standardized templates and other features mentioned above are critical for reducing project cycle times. Solar Operations Software that automates complex business processes such as managing capital funding budgets, tax credits, and incentives, as well as drawing approvals, helps projects reach close out faster.
Solar deployment operations management plays a significant and growing role in financing, particularly in commercial solar. By providing granular visibility into dozens, hundreds, or thousands of projects, organizations can demonstrate a detailed track record and give lenders a true sense of the risks and potential ROI of signing on.
Solar Work Management – Solar deployment management solutions also address the solar industry’s challenge of developing efficient supplier and subcontractor networks to enhance collaboration and efficiency.
These systems better connect contractors to enable collaboration on project schedules, job information, images, site maps, and history to deploy faster at a lower cost. Against a backdrop of skilled-labor shortages, these systems’ ability to place scarce resources in the right place at the right time is increasingly vital. The aforementioned standardized processes also embed industry and organizational knowledge into workflows that empower less experienced staff to perform at higher levels, and with less supervision than previously possible.
Underpinning all the advantages of solar operations management systems is the single source of truth their cloud architectures afford. Having one holistic system to manage sites, assets, field work, finance, and other functions brings far better visibility into operations, faster and more efficient deployments, and a quicker path to profitability than otherwise possible.
The days of relying on general construction management software, spreadsheets, or disparate systems for project management, financial management, asset management, field-crew management, and other functions must end if the solar industry hopes to achieve anywhere near the growth the market will embrace in the coming years.
Solar project management software is essential to exploiting the vast opportunities and overcoming the many challenges ahead as the solar industry strives to fulfill its enormous potential in realizing our clean-energy future.
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Respond to the increasing demands for renewable energy infrastructure with Sitetracker’s solar project management software built for scale. Sitetracker’s native cloud software helps deploy and manage solar assets by digitizing their projects and enabling commercial and residential solar to do more with less.