In the run-up to Solar Asset Management Australia, we had a brief chat with Frank Teofilo, Senior Director of Energy Services leading First Solar’s Operations and Maintenance throughout Asia Pacific to get a feel for what is in store for the Australian solar market and draw on their invaluable expertise in the field of performance engineering to set the tone for the conference.
The Australian solar market has been growing by leaps and bounds. How do you see this changing in the light of the latest election outcome?
The growth in the utility-scale solar market in Australia has been particularly strong over the last three to four years and continues to grow at a pace. This trajectory is underpinned by technology and economics, and it is hard to argue against expanding the country’s power generation portfolio to include a larger share of the lowest cost source of energy. I don’t see this momentum dissipating as we go forward.
What are the next steps to be taken to further bolster solar growth in Australia?
Over the medium- to long-term, if we want to see a significantly accelerated de-carbonization of the electricity sector in Australia with solar playing a pivotal role, we will require some strengthening and reconfiguration of the electricity grid infrastructure to support the distributed nature of the energy flows. We will also need to address some of the inefficiencies which exist with the current electricity market mechanisms, which undervalues or disadvantages solar energy.
Moving onto the operational assets and First Solar’s operations, you will be part of the performance engineering session. Just to give our readers a better idea on the topic, how do you estimate the performance of solar power plants?
Performance Engineering is a very important tool in O&M, particularly as it relates to evaluating, maintaining, and potentially maximizing plant performance. Performance Engineering in our industry is essentially based around high-level data analytics and turning plant data into a clear and concise understanding of how the plant is performing against the original design parameters. At First Solar, we have invested and built an exceptionally strong Performance Engineering offering, which we believe is the best in the industry, and, I hope to share some of these insights with the audience.
Which factors have an impact on the performance of utility-scale solar projects?
There are many factors which can affect the performance of utility-scale projects, but one of the most critical is a plant’s DC performance or health. This is an area where the losses may be small, or changes occur very slowly, and the loss of performance may go unnoticed for a long period, if at all because these problems are the most difficult to diagnose and locate. In many ways, it is like finding the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack,’ and this is where a strong Performance Engineering focus in this area can be a significant benefit and contribute to enhanced plant performance and improved project revenues.
What are some of the performance engineering considerations during the design stage to ensure increased performance?
Performance Engineering relies on the availability of accurate and timely plant data. It is vitally important that this is taken into consideration in the design phase, and that the mechanisms for collecting, aggregating, and making the data accessible over the long term are designed in.
What are the next steps for First Solar in the Australian market?
From an O&M perspective, First Solar will continue to develop and grow its business in Australia. We have provided O&M services in this market for over seven years, and we believe that our track record speaks for itself. Our ability to leverage our global experience and knowledge at scale allows us to deliver competitive services.
Fill in the blank. Australian Solar installations will reach ….. GW by 2030.
More than we can imagine!