Monitoring and the Internet-of-Things (IoT) are cornerstones of any successful energy service company of the 21st century. Utilizing these technologies has the potential to significantly reduce operational costs, to enable new business models and to attract investors (more on this soon!).
There are currently 3 ways in which energy service companies implement monitoring:
• Using existing vendor portals
• Building a software solution in-house
• Looking for a 3rd party solution
The former two options have their own set of pros and cons. Existing vendor portals are relatively low cost but present a challenge when an operator uses equipment from multiple vendors. Solutions developed in-house offer full control over feature development, but they often turn out to be complex and expensive to develop.
However, this post focuses on the third kind of monitoring solution – a 3rd party solution that offers monitoring for your assets.
Let’s have a look at the 8 factors to consider while selecting a monitoring solution for your energy business:
If you are operating or planning to operate a portfolio of energy systems, it is very likely that this portfolio will consist of a variety of different vendors and technologies (e.g. PV inverters, battery inverters, charge controllers, BMS, smart meters, gensets etc.). Make sure that the monitoring provider you select can and is willing to integrate with the technologies and sensors you need.
Some monitoring solutions will have direct API connections with vendor monitoring portals which allow them to acquire the site data without the installation of additional monitoring hardware. This will likely be more convenient for you; though at the same time comes at the cost of being reliant on the data quality and quantity provided through the vendor’s platform.
Other solutions require the installation of an extra datalogger to acquire the data locally. While the data quality and quantity can be improved this way, there will be some hardware installation costs, and potentially additional on-site communications requirements.
Look for a provider that integrates with the equipment you need in the way that is most suited to your needs. At the very least, it should be a solution that offers API integrations and/or dataloggers and assists you in picking the right acquisition strategy that best fits your requirements with regard to a given installation.
There are roughly two business models used by monitoring provider. A CAPEX based solution or a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. Your decision should be based on how you envision your partnership with the monitoring company.
If you are only looking for a monitoring solution for a given project with a fixed set of requirements that never change, the CAPEX solutions (i.e. fixed up-front cost) might be interesting for you.
However, if your requirements are evolving over time and you are looking for a portfolio monitoring tool, it makes sense to consider a SaaS solution. A SaaS solution is most likely to continuously improve and evolve based on the requirements and needs you are facing.
The data your monitoring platform provides can only be as good as the data provided by the installed equipment. The best performance algorithms are useless if the processed data is “garbage” (i.e. “garbage in, garbage out”). Make sure your monitoring provider assists you in evaluating the data quality of your systems and is proactive in helping you identifying areas of improvement.
Also make sure the platform informs you about data that can be trusted and data that can’t. So that you do not generate reports or invoices based on unreliable data.
Furthermore, ask your monitoring provider if they have additional algorithms in place to ensure data integrity. After all, your monitoring provider wants to make sure you trust their data for your systems.
Many generic monitoring solutions present themselves simply as providers of data, rather than providers of business value. Make sure you are looking for a monitoring solution that is tailored to your specific business model and offers insights that are useful to your line of business – rather than data only.
Think about your growth plans in the future. Are you looking for a generic monitoring provider who you want to engage on a project-by-project basis? Then you should optimize for this use case and pick the best solution for a given project on an ad-hoc basis.
Are you looking for a monitoring partner who would continuously support you while growing your portfolio and who makes sure the software evolves together with your needs as a company? Then you should engage with a provider early to start building a relationship. This will allow you to properly evaluate whether this provider is the right partner to support you in your growth.
Depending on the business model, the deployed technologies and the state of the company, the monitoring requirements for energy service companies vary. A small company in its growth phase with only a handful of simpler systems has needs that are different from a large company with hundreds of systems that span multiple technologies.
To account for this, you should not only think about the needs and pains you are facing at the moment but also what you expect in the future.
The monitoring solution you are selecting should allow for this flexibility within their platform. The potential for customizations can be a valuable asset for you down the line.
One of the most overlooked points when choosing a monitoring solution is the customer support offered by the provider. Let’s face it, anyone who has dealt with monitoring solutions has experienced hassles with data integration, data reliability and communication failures.
This can be a very frustrating, time consuming and costly experience for an energy service company.
Monitoring companies have a lot of experience with these data related issues and hence are best positioned to help the energy service companies, in addition to providing a software solution.
Make sure that your monitoring provider offers the right support structure to mitigate the frustrations. This includes: