In an exclusive interview with SolarQuarter ASEAN magazine, Deepak Khetarpal, COO – South East Asia at SunSource Energy, gave great insights on solar progression in the region. He spoke about the recent practices for O&M and asset management in Singapore’s rooftop solar and the importance of digital technology. He also discussed how SunSource is contributing towards the region’s overall solar development.
How has the solar sector progressed over the last few years in South East Asia?
Solar PV sector has progressed well in the South East Asia (SEA) region over the last few years. Singapore and Thailand have met their targets of 2020 and 2021 respectively; Philippines did add around 1 GW capacity before ending its FiT policy in 2016/17 and Vietnam has recently added a huge capacity of around 15 GW, much beyond its targets. With the current overall installed capacity of around 20 GWp, it is safe to say that the region has done really well. However, a few countries are still lagging behind despite a huge technical and commercial potential.
Progress in the rooftop PV segment has also been steady despite lack of favoring policies such as net-metering in most of the countries in the region. Broad economic fundamentals and/or rising retail electricity tariff are pushing forward the business case for the rooftop PV segment. This segment will continue to expand in the future.
Please tell us about the recent key practices being followed in Singapore for O&M and asset management in rooftop solar.
One of the key practices that we follow is to have a centralized National Operating Centre (NOC) which remotely gathers data from all of our assets at one platform through SCADA and monitoring systems. It is a real time monitoring system with data coming in from sites at 5- or 15-minute intervals, automated flags and alarms for interventions as required, and data insights being created on a daily basis. Data insights are used to enhance asset performance and predictive maintenance to ensure asset health in the long run. Analysis of large data sets and ticket management records are used to refine or update the preventive maintenance policies, spares and contractor management activities and dashboards on an ongoing basis. We are also experimenting with AI based data analysis as well as on-sight technologies such as dry and/or water based robotic cleaning systems and on-site array health measurements.
How is digital technology playing a role in solar progression in SE Asia?
Digital technologies have already penetrated the solar PV industry with current focus on the O&M or Asset Management aspect of it. From remote monitoring to predictive maintenance, there are many activities or functions that are now being done with the help of digital technologies. Deeper the depth of remote monitoring, higher is the intervention of digital technologies – finally resulting in utilization and making of massive volume of data. This brings Big Data phenomenon into play providing insights regarding predictive/preventive maintenance, weather patterns etc.
Further, drones equipped with data-analytics ability are used for visual/IR imaging of solar modules and check the status of other PV components. Data from drones is also directly transferred to the cloud for later access and analysis.
Actually, the scope of digital technologies is quite wide. By providing services from fault/ticketing management to overall automated plant performance diagnosis & control, digital technologies are actually playing a pivotal role in reducing the cost of operations in the long term and also increasing the assets performance.
How is SunSource Energy contributing towards solar development in the region?
SunSource Energy entered the region as an EPC player building utility scale solar PV projects in the Philippines. Subsequently, sticking to its strategic direction, SunSource Energy started building rooftop PV projects in the country. Following the successful entry in the Philippines, we devised our overall strategy for the region and entered Thailand and Vietnam markets, maintaining its focus on the rooftop PV segment. Another important component of the strategy was to become a developer/investor rather than just an EPC player.
Today SunSource Energy has delivered projects for many companies including Robinsons, Pepsi, Linde, etc. We are emerging as a developer of choice for many ‘Fortune 500’ or large companies in the region and are in discussion with them to develop their regional portfolio. We are responsible for avoiding around 50 thousand MT of carbon emission every year in the region and this number will double in about a years’ time.
Lastly, please tell us how you think the solar sector is going to grow in the South East Asian region in the next 5 years?
COVID has definitely impacted the overall growth in the South East Asia (SEA) region. However, trade is picking up and economic fundamentals are looking to return toward normalcy. A mix of both consumption and production-based economies in the region has been helping in keeping the balance and ensuring a reasonable growth in the future. This will help the solar PV sector to see steady growth in the near future.
Talking specifically about the solar sector, Singapore has recently set up a huge target for solar PV installations by 2030; Malaysia has been following a steady path over development of the solar PV sector in the country; Thailand and Vietnam provide big potential for industrial rooftop PV projects and other countries which have lagged behind till now offers a huge untapped potential in both utility scale and rooftop PV segment.
The region is on a typical solar learning curve trajectory and the cost of solar power is coming down as installations are growing. Recent swell in Vietnam has really helped the cause. In all likelihood the trend is going to continue and takers or adopters of solar power will keep on growing.