Brief us about the key business trends and also give an overview of Solar-Log™ operating globally and what are you bringing to India?
Solar-Log™ globally is a highly qualified monitoring solution that is already installed in individual countries 248 thousand times.
Solar-Log™ is covering qualified monitoring features when it comes to the direct and neutral inverter communication. Solar-Log™ is also addressing the optimization of self consumption with helping you to reduce the energy costs. In addition, Solar-Log™ fulfils the criteria for the grid companies; 0%, x% whatever is needed to stabilize the grid and also to deal with the active and reactive topics. Solar-Log™ as a company is owned by the largest Swiss grid company- BKW. We have 85 employees at present. What we bring to India is a proper protectionfor the PV investment, especially for the commercial market, and, of course, in future hopefully also for the residential market. We have installed about 1,000 Solar-Log™ units in India in the meantime, not we ourselves, but our customers, and this installed volume relates to more than 30 Megawatt. For this short period of time that we are here in this country, we feel okay and we are quite satisfied, however, of course, it can always be more.
What is it in terms of technology that makes you stand out from your competitors and other companies?
The main USP, of course, is that we are communicating with more than 90 different inverter brands as per today. It doesn’t matter if it is a German, Chinese,Japanese or any other. So all these brands relating to more than 1.700 inverter models finally communicate with the Solar-Log™ system.We have also started to integrate other components like battery storage systems, meters, heat pumps and whatever might be needed to handle a PV plant properly and to see if it is working well or not. We offer a combination of products, i. e. hardware, accessories and software, and there are, of course,a lot of features and functionalities that makes the life of an EPCand project company much easier.As an example, in most of the cases, he would not have to go on site to see what the problem is, as our system will tell him in great details.
Monitoring generally comes later on in the industry. So what are the consequences of having this kind of approach by EPCs and developers?
We, ofcourse,hope that the customers and EPCs start monitoring the plants from the beginning. Maybe it is the decision of the investor or plant owner and not the decision of the EPC, you never know. It is very important to have the data from the very beginning. If you start monitoring the plant too late, you lose a lot of valuabledata and that is not good when it comes to proper data for investors, budget, forecasts etc. We of course offer both. We have a lot of customers who decide to work with the Solar-Log™ from the very beginning and we also have, in the meantime, more and more customers from countries with a lot of existing installations and no inverter-independent monitoring; for them, and at that time, the motivation to set up a monitoring system that costs a little bit more than inverter-integrated monitoring set-up was not that high. So there has been kind of a learning curve to accept that there have been still are and will be issues on a PV plant which cannot be avoided and which are also beyond anybody’s control, whether it is grid, weather, component or installation related. So we always recommend to, not only due to Solar-Log™, start monitoring properly from the beginning with the installation itself. However, we also experience that, according to the market level, so-called monitoring extent and definitions also change, very often depending on the market segment. In a lot of countries, companies start with very simple monitoring or with no basic monitoring approach. This then changes more and more after the first impacts and technical problems are being realized, also clearly connected to unexpected follow-up costs; the companies are more willing to talk and realize that it might be a good idea to monitor from the start.
What are the products that you are bringing to India and what is the market segment you are looking to address?
The products that we are bringing to India are all the data loggers that we have plus the relevant accessories, i.e. the hardware data logger Solar-Log 250, 300, 1200 and 2000. The design of the loggers is according to the PV plant size. We also have some accessories like sensors, meters etc. that fit for the Indian market, and we, of course, offer software services. The software depends on the customer segment. Addressing the segments, we are very strong in the residential, commercial and industrial market. Our main strengths are the PV system sizes up to 5-10 MWp/plant, so whatever is in that size category, we would like to have more sales, more market shares and these are also the segments we want to address. For the time being, definitely, the main focus is on the commercial rooftop market. For the residential and commercial market segment, we as Solar-Log™ have again been confirmed to be the leading global ISV Independent Software Vendor according to a neutral study of GTM Research which got published recently.
Any targets that you have set for the next financial year that you want to achieve in India?
Not yet. It is a very early stage for us. We have started in India 2 and half years ago. It of course took a while for ourselves and our new team in India to become familiar with the complexity of the system and the requirements and expectations of the Indian customers. Our system is definitely not a Plug&Play solution. Now we can meet almost all expectations and we have started to hire new people. At present, we have a team of 2 colleagues and we are interviewing some more already, as wewould like to have a team with 5 people minimum at the end of the year. Since May this year, we have a local office and a small warehouse to be able to meet more of the Indian market needs (easy and quick availability, local and low freight costs, …). Financially, no, in this respect, it is just the beginning. However, if you will ask me the same question next year, I’d definitely be able to answer you with concrete numbers.
Tell us about some of the work that you have done in India and what has been the result of the projects that you have already installed?
As mentioned earlier, we have sold about 1.000 Solar-Log™ units and this means a very good number of plants .Normally, one Solar-Log™ fits for one size/plant, depending on size and project parameters. One of our Solar-Log™ models, i.e. Solar-Log 2000, works for plants up to 2 MWp and can coordinate up to 100 inverters, even from different inverter brands. So if you have a plant of 500 kWp or 1 MWp, it is just one single Solar-Log™ needed. So from these approx. 1.000 plants, we have a lot of feedback–both, good and bad,of course. Reason for this is that in the beginning, it is always the monitoring system that doesn’t work properly. We are familiar with this. Though, the monitoring system in general communicates what is not working properly on the plant and which actions then should be taken to protect the investment. Unfortunately, some customers, when they start working with our system, might feel that the Solar-Log™ does not work properly. Finally, when the “plant issues” are identified overall, the Solar-Log™ is no longer blamed. We have realized that in the beginning, customers or interested people had been reserved; our system is, frankly speaking, a complex, but not complicated system and might be sometimes perceived as “German-overengineered”. We are also familiar with this, but as mentioned already with learning curves of all industries in “booming times”, we respect that some people don’t want to learn too much about plant issues with relevant impact on the plant performance in the beginning. Anyhow, to keep a long story short: we do not have too many customers who decided to change our system with another one. We generate more and more interest with our monitoring approach and hence are happy with this development.
Could you highlight some of the key issues that you were able to identify?
The most important thing is of course which error messages and alerts are being communicated from the inverter via our system. We can only communicate what is being sent from this important component (for us, the inverter is considered to be the heart of a PV system) to our Solar-Log™(we call it the brain of a PV system); hence for us, the inverter is the main source of communication. According to what else is added to the PV plant, e. g. sensor boxes or meters, we of course add this into the communication feedback in the complete set-up. Overall, the most important thing is that the EPCs can benefit from all this. For example, when monitoring several plants with Solar-Log™ at the same time and working with different inverter brands on these sites, he can adapt his own work due to received feedback from the combination of different components for future projects, doing some evaluation and analysis as well as checking regularly from the office of what is happening on the plants. According to feedback level, he can easily decide to get involved in person or fix issues remotely.
These issues can be component related or external ones. We also experienced that weather issues like impact due to shadowing e. g. might be underestimated when checking general performance parameters. Somehow, it is a combination of everything and then, it is of course in the interest of the EPC and the owner to protect the PV investment properly. We can provide all details which are needed, however it is the decision and responsibility of the EPC or O&M partner to react or not.
Finally, how has been the market’s response to your products?
So far, it’s very good. We have to be honest that due to the fact that we had started with a very small team, we were of course not able to address all the companies, but for the companies that we address now, the feedback is really positive and promising.When it comes to products in any booming market, it is also clear that there are always somehow complaints; no person in this world is really interested in critical and negative news by nature. It can and will never be 100% perfect. But the main benefits of our system are easily visible after a short while. The customers finally learn more and more about what is happening on the PV plants and about what might have been underestimated in the beginning.Your market in India is still pretty young.And please let us also be honest; we have 10 years of product experience for Solar-Log™, but of course not for India, as there are not that many PV plants working in India for this long time. Same experience is to be applied for other countries with young PV markets and high growth rates.
Overall, we think, as already mentioned earlier, our system might be a little bit tricky in the beginning. Reason for this is, you have to “feed”it with a lot of technical details and information. So at the end of the day, when you see ‘hey, everything is working fine” or “hey, it is not working properly and this is the proposal to step in like e. g. inverter no. 64 is having an issue” or “these are performance, connection or status issues you should address”, then this is finally a very positive feedback. Customers feel their investment is protected and feel more comfortable. And this is also what made us thinking about expanding the India team and entering the Indian market properly. Otherwise, if the feedback would not have been on that level, then we would have accepted that our system might be too complex or it might be too early for our solution to be applied in your young market or that, simply said, the market for our Solar-Log™ approach is not yet there. So, we are looking forward to more and more projects in India.