Reducing the cost of operations and maintenance for remote off-grid energy systems - The impact of remote monitoring

Sep 18, 2018

Source/author : AMMP

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Executive Summary

This paper explores the benefits of remote monitoring for off-grid energy systems, with a focus on reducing the cost of operations and maintenance (O&M). Impact analysis is done on the basis of real-world operation of a portfolio of PV-hybrid mini-grid systems in rural Tanzania. The paper surveys different monitoring approaches, and explores their respective impact on the key O&M cost drivers relevant to these systems. The analysis shows that monitoring, data access, and data analytics impact every major O&M cost driver. For instance, by increasing the observability and longevity of critical components such as batteries, the frequency of component replacements can be reduced by 10-20%. Additionally, the number of technical site trips (and hence logistics costs), can be reduced by more than 20% by adopting advanced remote monitoring and management tools. A major factor in that respect is the ability to carry out remote issue assessment, and potential task delegation to lower-skilled on-site staff. The paper also discusses further potential savings, realized by optimizing the processes required to effectively oversee a portfolio of diverse systems and components. In summary, the analysis indicates that even basic monitoring solutions can lead to a roughly 15% cost saving with respect to a baseline where no remote monitoring is in place. Additionally, more advanced solutions can reduce the O&M costs of operators of remote off-grid assets by around 30% in comparison to the same baseline.

1. Introduction

The ability of renewable energy sources to provide clean power in remote locations at increasingly competitive cost has led to a surge in deployment of off-grid energy systems. The existing generation capacity of these systems is estimated to be over 6.5 GW globally1, with many new systems entering operation every day. These off-grid assets serve a variety of use cases; spanning from commercial and industrial loads such as resorts, mines, and mobile phone towers, to the electrification of remote residential consumers and communities.

Still, the remoteness and complexity of these systems can pose substantial operational challenges. The systems often comprise operationally sensitive components such as battery storage, while at the same time skilled technical labor is frequently not available at or close to the site of operation. This situation can lead to relatively high technical operation and maintenance (O&M) spending, as compared to similar systems elsewhere.

In this context, the implementation of remote monitoring and management offers many potential benefits, including concrete cost reduction opportunities. These are explored in the present paper

The present analysis is based on real-world data and learnings attained through the operation of a portfolio of eight mini-grid assets in rural Tanzania. The data spans an operating period of approximately 3 years, though this is shorter for some more recentlyinstalled asset. Each of the assets comprised of 5–25 kWp installed PV generation capacity and 30–100 kWh lead-acid battery storage capacity. Some were additionally equipped with diesel generators with capacities in the range of 3–10 kVA.

While the analysis is grounded in data pertaining to this asset portfolio, the conclusions are likely to translate well to other off-grid systems operated in remote locations. In particular, to other assets comprising solar PV/battery storage/diesel generation, regardless of whether power is supplied to a single off-taker or to a distribution grid.

The next section provides a high-level outline of the types of remote monitoring, and the rest of the paper analyzes the impact of these on O&M costs.

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