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Are you a renewables Blockbuster in a Netflix world?

Real-time data streams and powerful analytics are the future for operators of renewables and storage assets.

The renewable energy sector is going through a change similar to the one that finally killed off video store giant Blockbuster a decade ago.

In the 1990s, you had to visit a video shop if you wanted to rent a movie. It was slow, frustrating and potentially disappointing if ‘Top Gun’ wasn’t even in stock. It is little surprise that streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ eventually won the battle for viewers’ attention and money.

However, many owners and operators are still using a Blockbuster-style model to manage performance data at their renewable generation and storage assets. Raw performance data is sent to a vast digital repository – a ‘data lake’ – and analysts have to pay a special visit when they want insights about their assets. It is a time-consuming way to manage assets and erodes their profitability.

This may have been a viable approach in the era of feed-in tariffs (FITs), when it was common for operators to get long-term clarity over income streams for their assets. But the market is changing fast, and those with battery assets will find that real-time data streams will give them the flexibility they need to thrive.

Primed for success

Anyone with even a passing interest in energy software will know about digital asset management systems. These software-as-a-service solutions empower operators to pull in real-time information from multiple sources so they can see how their assets are performing. These independent sources of truth help them to negotiate with their project partners.

But the future of digital information in renewables goes far beyond this -- and nowhere will this be more seen than with how operators manage batteries.

Current ways of working aren’t well-suited for a battery revolution. Historically, owners of renewable energy projects have been very focused on securing the route to market for their scheme early. This used to be done with FITs that paid a fixed rate for the power the asset produced. Maximising production was vital.

That balance has shifted in recent years, with solutions such as contracts for difference and corporate power purchase agreements. These exposed owners to more market risk than with FITs, but still gave clarity over the project’s route to market in the medium- to long-term. But storage demands further change.

The change we see with the growth of batteries -- both standalone and hybrid developments -- is that operators will be far more reliant on short-term deals in a fiercely competitive market. The electricity grid is constantly changing and so owners will need to be able to identify and react to short-term opportunities.

We do not know exactly what the opportunities will be in ten or twenty years’ time, but we do know that speed and flexibility will be essential. Battery owners will need digital infrastructure that links physical assets to different value pools.

This means that digital asset management systems currently available will not be fit for purpose in ten years’ time. It will not be enough to see how your own assets are performing, even in real-time. SaaS systems will need to do more than show you what is happening at assets, predict failures and help you plan maintenance. They will need to show you where value exists in the market.

Streaming services

This is where the Netflix analogy comes back in. This digital layer described above relies on real-time streaming of market data. If you cannot access that data then you won’t be able to find market opportunities that could emerge in minutes, seconds or even milliseconds. That will be the cornerstone.

The challenge for the modern energy professional is that they will not be able to watch a large number of data streams at once and make optimal decisions. Even the world’s biggest TV fan hasn’t worked out how to follow many different shows on Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+ at the same time!

Therefore, energy managers need a system that offers super-fast processing power and analytics. This can watch all those data streams, analyse them in real-time, and identify pools of value that enable energy managers make the right decisions. That will enable battery operators to benefit from swathes of market data, while still removing complexity for individual energy managers.

We may not know exactly what the future will look like, but we know what it won’t be: a time-consuming trip where we fail to find ‘Top Gun’.


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