The reduction in the Feed-in-Tariff has created numerous challenges for the Solar PV industry and managing operational costs has been fundamental to the continued success of many businesses.
In pursuing their efforts to address operational costs, owners of large domestic solar PV portfolios, such as social housing landlords, local authorities and investors face a number of challenges in tackling the pressures to maximise the FIT revenues while keeping administration costs to a minimum.
Goldfield Partners Limited is a case in point. Managing a diverse domestic solar PV portfolio of over 8 MW with 2,700 solar PV assets largely in the private domestic market in a challenging environment comes at a cost.
“It’s true that many thousands of jobs have been lost in the solar PV industry since the new FIT regime was introduced in January 2016,” said Karl Fernandes, national operations manager at Goldfield Partners Limited. “And we have seen the effects first hand. Installation and maintenance partners have gone which has added further administrative pressures on us whilst keeping operational costs as low as possible. This is whilst growing our portfolio through acquisitions and still managing and maintaining our current assets to ensure our customers are benefitting from the free energy generated from the solar arrays on their homes and to maximise the FIT revenues for our investment partners.”
Minimising administration costs
Goldfield Partners launched its solar programme in 2011, and was clear at the outset that it would need to implement remote monitoring to maximise returns and minimise maintenance costs. It is crucial that the solar arrays work at peak efficiency to recoup the investors’ expenditure. Goldfield Partners identified PassivSystems’ products and services as a robust and powerful monitoring and analytics tool and has used its smart meters and associated services on all installations since then.
“One of the reasons we selected PassivSystems as our metering and monitoring partner was the fact they were always developing the platform to deliver additional features and value added services. When we were approached by PassivSystems regarding the new Feed-in-Tariff automation suite, it couldn’t have come at a better or more crucial time.”
In October 2015 PassivSystems and its sister company arto.energy (Licensed Energy Supply Company and voluntary FIT Licensee) launched a fully automated FIT management suite to help seamlessly manage FIT registrations and quarterly FIT read submissions via the PassivPro portal.
“The timing couldn’t have been better for us. Growing our portfolio of solar PV assets is a key strategy for our business but I needed to dedicate far too much time in managing FIT claims each quarter. At the time we were managing almost 3,000 FIT claims across 8 different funds. It was taking between 3 and 5 days per quarter to manage and reconcile. It may not sound a lot, but compiling meter reads, formatting spreadsheets, emailing back and forth, deciphering and managing read rejections, sending screenshots for proof of generation, whilst also manging the ‘day job’ is an unwelcome distraction.
From a cost perspective, FIT claims were costing in excess of £2,000 per annum in man hours, not to mention the time spent when we could be managing remedial works and supporting our customer base. The new FIT automation service has essentially removed any administrative input from us.
We receive communications from arto.energy outlining the key timelines from submission to payment each quarter and pretty much leave them to it. The FIT income report we receive is concise and easy to reconcile. As we are notified of potential read failures well in advance of the quarter end, this falls into our business as usual maintenance schedules.”
Using the automated FIT management facility removes the need to have any manual input for quarterly FIT claims. Meter reads are collated automatically via the PassivPro platform 10 working days before the quarter end to help capture any anomalies, non-communicating or non-generating sites that may result in failed read submission. This gives PassivSystems’ customers plenty of time to manage any remedial works before the final reads are submitted on the last day of the quarter to maximise returns.
“There are additional benefits from the automation which I hadn’t expected,” stated Karl. “Annual leave had to be arranged around FIT submission time before automation, and the way PassivPro and arto.energy interact I am no longer spending hours justifying meter reads with screenshots for load factor failures.”
Simple switching process
“The process of switching from our incumbent FIT Licensee was simple and straight forward. It also helped us to identify and to iron out some administrative changes as well which further improved our success rate for FIT submissions.”
Goldfield partners have recently completed a successful refinancing deal enabling the company to acquire additional assets to add to their portfolio. Karl commented, “These are exciting times for us and the refinancing has allowed us to expand our portfolio of solar assets and bring in more expertise to the business. What is really encouraging is the fact that arto.energy also has an online FIT management portal, so if we were to acquire large portfolios with third-party monitoring systems we do not necessarily need to replace AMR meters. Arto.energy can receive the meter reads from any meter read provider and still automate our FIT claims each quarter.”
Karl also mentions, “We are also looking forward to upgrading our service to include the PassivPro O&M ticketing service which will be essential as our portfolio grows. This will provide us and our field based maintenance partners a transparent maintenance management platform. We can set our own KPIs within the system and report on maintenance activity, peer-group performance and key metrics that will ensure revenues are maximised and our customers are benefitting as much as possible from the free energy that is generated on their roofs.”
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