By Parjanya Rijal, director of product management for energy,年代itetracker
That soft costs account for more than 60% of a solar PV installation’s tab isno secret.
That a new class of software harnessing artificial intelligence, automated document generation, and other tools are already cutting soft costs and boosting productivity remains, at least for now, a well-kept one.
These cloud-based systems — collectively called solar deployment operations management solutions — combine the strengths of project, asset and field management software to track and manage thousands of job sites, assets and field crews in real-time.
They do so by feeding and then tapping into a single information repository continually updated by everyone from field crews to top management. That single source of truth — based on standardized processes — delivers consistent, structured data enabling real-time reporting and predictive analytics. Solar companies can use these to address soft costs in two key ways: automated document generation and AI-enhanced, automated forecasting.
Automated document generation
While automated document generation can apply to permitting and other aspects of a solar project, its value is most obvious at project closeout. That’s when a project manager must collect and organize documents, maps, renderings and images from various sources (legal, financial, regulatory and installation-related, among others) and present them cohesively. Solar deployment operations management solutions vastly simplify the process by pulling together a closeout package in a few clicks.
That’s possible thanks to collecting that consistent, structured data in a single system. Such data doesn’t organize and populate itself magically. The power of solar deployment operations management comes from configurable templates that are standardized yet reflect local requirements and are presented to users in a way that makes their jobs easier. This combination of repeatable, usable project tools allows team members and contractors to share accurate, timely information throughout a project because it’s easy for them and good for the company. When you have comprehensive, reliable information to work with, automated document generation becomes a reality, saving hours of management time and thousands of dollars in legal and other costs associated with a given closeout.
The solar industry has had anongoing interestinharnessing artificial intelligence to optimize performance. AI-enhanced, automated forecasting — a nascent but growing feature of solar deployment operations management — focuses AI on the solar installation process. Forecasting with an assist from AI boosts productivity and trims soft costs by providing the sorts of insights that help managers make better decisions and field teams work smarter. These forecasting functions are based on automated workflows that span planning, permitting and installation.
The pace of permitting varies by jurisdiction and the nature of the systems being installed (residential vs. commercial, grid-tied vs. standalone, rooftop vs. ground-mounted and so on). Different utilities have their own patterns of responsiveness. Internally, certain vendors and project managers tend to be more effective than others, which manifests in less rework, faster project completion times and faster time to revenue.
AI systems can pick up on these various patterns and sharpen the time-of-completion estimates in project forecasts. They can also highlight projects at risk of missing deadlines and provide managers the insights they need to assign or reassign staff in ways that benefit the business and its customers. For example, they could assign a more experienced team to a project that automated forecasting indicates may need a boost to stay on track (or, conversely, giving an inexperienced team a project that looks to have a healthy schedule buffer). Along the way, improved forecasts keep clients apprised of progress, improve customer service, and help minimize cancellations.
Automated document generation and AI-enhanced, automated forecasting are two examples of a growing list of labor-, time- and money-saving features that the solar industry can use as it races to meet unrelenting demand. What that list of features will expand to remains to be seen, but the structured data of a cloud-based solar deployment operations management solution provides a foundation upon which solar companies can better serve customers, both today and tomorrow.
Parjanya Rijal is Sitetracker’s director of product management for energy.