Many solar PV asset owners have wide and disparate portfolios, often due to rapid-growth mergers and acquisitions (M&A). As a result, they face constant challenges due to a lack of fleet-wide standardization, including lowered operational efficiency, HU events, external threats, and compliance issues.
Fleet standardization is the answer. While it can be an expensive process to change out existing systems, it can produce significant long-term ROI. Ultimately, it's not a matter of whether you can afford to standardize, but whether you can afford not to.
There are also ways to make the SCADA and DAS standardization process more efficient, and in turn more cost-effective.
1. How does standardizing your fleet benefit your organization?
Improved Operational Efficiency
With multiple systems in play, owners must either hire more operators to cover core competencies or train operators on all systems, which slows proficiency development. Even when fully proficient, jumping between multiple platforms is challenging for operators and greatly impacts response time and troubleshooting efficiency.
Having only one system to learn allows operators to gain true proficiency more quickly and carry out their tasks more effectively.
Consistent Performance Analysis
Standardization allows owners to compare apples to apples when analyzing financial performance between sites. Improved analysis leads to improved facility optimization.
Risk Mitigation & Compliance
Fleets with disparate systems and data overload are at increased risk of incorrect problem diagnosis and noncompliance due to human error. External security threats, IT equipment vulnerabilities, and obtaining vendor support are all vastly more difficult when each site has different systems, equipment and operating procedures.
Standardization gives operators the tools to quickly and accurately diagnose failures through consistent HMIs and alarms. Consistent operating procedures help mitigate security vulnerabilities, and vendor support leverage increases with scale.
2. What are the high-level steps in completing a system standardization?
Standardization projects require close coordination between stakeholders and vendors. The first step is to identify the partners and experts who will be key to the project's success. This group can then determine the solutions that will work best for the asset owner's needs and wants.
Some of the platforms and hardware that will need to be standardized include:
- SCADA or HMI platform
- Power Plant Controller (PPC)
- Enterprise-level platform for data analytics and operations
It is also crucial to go into the standardization process with a solid project management plan. This includes clear specifications and SOWs, dedicated point persons, milestones, and regularly scheduled check-ins.
3. Who needs to be involved in the standardization process from the asset owner to the O&M teams?
In addition to the asset owner and designated O&M team leads, it is important to include input from the people who will work with the system and equipment every day. They know firsthand what kinds of features and functionality will make their jobs easier and more efficient.
- The operations team should provide input on the HMI
- The performance analytics team should provide input on the data analytics platform and enterprise-level historian
- The instrumentation and controls engineering team should provide input on the PPC. If they are going to be in charge of maintaining and troubleshooting those controllers, they need to be comfortable with the platform.
- The onsite maintenance team should be involved with the MET stations and networking structure. They will be the boots on the ground working with the equipment.
- If there is an internal networking resource for the asset owner or O&M, they should provide direction on networking architecture and security.
4. Once a standard is established, how can standardization be applied to existing sites with different control systems?
This depends on the specific control systems and networking infrastructure the existing sites have, as well as the level of standardization. If the standardization is only happening at the enterprise level, there may be few, if any, changes needed at the local site level.
However, if the standardization project involves a local HMI, PPC, historian and MET stations—or other changes to the site infrastructure—this can potentially have large impacts on new or existing sites. It's a matter of determining if the equipment and systems already in place can be retrofitted to meet the new standards or if they will need to be ripped and replaced. It may also be easier and more cost-effective to rip and replace in some instances. Ultimately, it's up to the asset owner and the O&M team to make that determination.
Learn more about retrofits and replacements here.
5. What components or steps can be completed early on?
Any components or steps related to the enterprise-level standardization can and should be completed as early as possible. Anything involving the local site level requires more careful coordination and planning so as not to impact site production. For example, a rip and replace can potentially impact the visibility and control of the site.
6. Are outages expected during the transitions, and how can organizations prepare for them?
Sites undergoing a rip and replace are at the most risk for outages. Even if the site is able to run without the SCADA system for a day or two during the transition, you won't have visibility during that period.
With careful planning, it is sometimes possible to put in new equipment in parallel with the existing system in order to minimize the visibility and control outage. While not always feasible, this is the ideal way to deal with the system transition.
Learn how Nor-Cal helped Cypress Creek Renewables Achieve Fleet-Wide Standardization
In 2018, Cypress Creek Renewables (CCR) standardized operations across its 2.8 GW portfolio. Nor-Cal Controls, Power Factors and GridSME worked together to provide a cohesive solution that helped improve CCR's operational efficiency from the enterprise down to the local site level. Despite its vast and disparate portfolio, CCR was able to implement an effective strategy in approximately 6 months!
Read the case study here.