Our new series of blog posts introduces this year’s participants of Japan Energy Challenge. In this edition, we’ve interviewed Marcel Suri, Managing Director of Solargis, to discuss the role his company can play in the future of Japan’s energy market.
Solargis provide weather data and software for analysing solar power investments. Given the intermittent nature of sunlight – and therefore of solar panel output – there is a significant amount of interest surrounding technologies that can help make these more predictable. In this article we’ll try to shed some light into what makes Solargis stand out from the rest.
Hi Marcel, can you tell us a bit about the company and its founders?
Our company Solargis is based in Slovakia, Europe, and it is active in solar energy. We are known as providers of solar and meteorological data, energy-calculation software and consultancy for developers, investors and operators of solar power plants.
Standardized and reliable solar and meteorological data is needed for the optimisation of technical design of solar power plants, energy yield evaluation, and in the development of financial plans. These are key parts of every solar energy project. Especially in the segment of large and utility-scale photovoltaic and concentrated solar power plants, accurate data and powerful software play a key role in reducing the uncertainty of calculations and understanding weather-related risks.
We have developed an in-house IT technology that converts large streams of data from global meteorological models and geostationary satellites into site-specific, standardised, accurate and reliable solar and meteorological data products for almost any location worldwide. Our energy-calculation software is also used for performance evaluation of photovoltaic power plants. In addition, we provide technical consultancy which focuses on improving the accuracy of location-specific solar and meteorological data, describing risk factors related to local geographical conditions, and helps to optimise the technical design of photovoltaic power plants.
The founders and owners of the company are Marcel Suri and Tomas Cebecauer. Tomas and myself have worked together for more than 25 years, and our technical and business-development skills complement each other. We both hold PhDs in geography and geoscience. Before starting Solargis (10 years ago), we worked in research, and acquired critical knowledge and experience in geographical data processing, digital meteorology and photovoltaic electricity modelling. Today, Solargis is represented by 40 experts from 8 nationalities, with a university education in geography, electrical engineering, physics, IT, business management and other fields.
How does your solution fit within the wider trends of Digitalisation and Decarbonisation in the energy sector?
Solargis supports the development of solar renewable energy systems. After many years of evolution, the photovoltaic industry reached a position that it is respected by energy and financial players as a serious mature partner, bringing added value and reducing costs.
There are many advantages of photovoltaic power: together with hydro, wind and biomass these are the most-environmentally friendly technologies, with a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to any fossil-fuel or nuclear options. Photovoltaic power is the cheapest of these in most countries, it can be installed anywhere in the world, the technology is perfectly scalable, durable, simple to install and easy to operate.
On the other hand, solar photovoltaics has two features that are considered as a challenge. First, almost all future electricity production has to be paid upfront in the form of large capital investments. Fuel (solar radiation) is for free and operating costs are very small. The second disadvantage is variability: generation of solar electricity depends on seasonal cycles and short-term weather changes. Therefore, a detailed knowledge of local meteorological and environmental conditions is needed − to optimise the project in the planning and project development stages, and to reduce uncertainty in the technical design and financial projections. For the effective operation and integration of solar power into the energy system, day-ahead solar power forecasting is required.
We work closely with players active in the development and operation of solar power plants. For project development, our role is to provide historical meteorological data. Thanks to the accuracy, high-resolution and reliability of our data we help the solar industry reduce weather and environmental risks and the higher accuracy of data makes project financing cheaper. As far as the operation of solar power plants is concerned, systematic performance monitoring and forecasting of solar power generation are needed. For this we supply data computed in real-time.
Solar power plants include electrical equipment that is highly computerized (e.g. inverters and monitoring systems) and they are closely linked to software and IT solutions. Indeed, optimum operation of solar power plants and synchronisation with the needs of the electrical grid (e.g. balancing of demand and supply of electrical energy) would be not possible without hardware controlled by dedicated software managing flow of electrical and meteorological data.
Are there milestones you are particularly proud to have achieved as a company?
For Solargis, an important milestone was the development of meteorological models and software technology that provide solar and meteorological data globally and in real time. The data is accompanied by energy evaluation software and distributed in three services: historical for development of new projects, recent data for monitoring and forecast data for management of solar power plants that are already in operation. It took us about 7 years, in many small steps, to achieve this milestone.
This year, an important milestone was the launch of our first interactive online software applications. We are working on a next-generation software (replacing the old one) that is designed for performance evaluation of solar projects globally. Our aim is to fill the gaps in the market by providing integrated data and software solutions, in order to better support the needs across all lifecycle stages of a solar power project: from planning through technical development, financing, monitoring to forecasting.
Today we serve more than 900 customers in 90+ countries. Through our automatic and interactive online software services we support about ten thousand solar energy projects. In the last ten years, more than 1000 large-scale projects were supported by our consultancy services. This portfolio, and experience gained within 10 years of our commercial operation and development, provide solid ground for further innovation and cost reduction of our services.
Let’s look at Japan Energy Challenge’s scope: what specifically attracted you about the prospect of expanding to the Japanese market?
Japan is one of the pioneers of solar energy, both from the perspective of technology manufacturing and project development. Japan continues in its ambitious plan to expand the share of renewables in their energy system. This will only be possible if a new generation of software services, based on real-time meteorological data, is introduced: at the level of a single site up to the level of energy companies managing power generation and distribution.
Japanese industry and investors are knowledgeable, experienced and Japan values innovative and quality services highly. Thanks to its technical maturity and specific needs, the Japanese energy market will witness key technical and business innovations. For Solargis, this market, together with a few others, is of special importance.
Yet, it can be difficult to work with companies in Japan in a more systematic way. Development of appropriate partnerships is needed to help Solargis to demonstrate the reliability and value of its services.
And finally, how will your solution promote the expansion and modernisation of the Japanese energy sector?
Even though solar is cheap and has good prospects, it has to maintain and improve its competitive position. The ability of solar industry to improve economic and technical efficiency of developing and operating solar power plants plays an important role in future decision making: in domestic markets, but mainly in the global perspective (solar energy is a strongly globalised industry).
Solar and wind renewable energy are highly variable, and this poses a major challenge in terms of integration of higher capacities in the energy system. Electrical grids have to undergo technical upgrades to be able to more flexibly react to higher variability of power generation and consumption. This requires better transmission and distribution networks with new hardware components, including storage systems. But also, the energy system has to go through the process of digitalization. This includes new generations of software and integrated meteorological (and other data) services for better management and forecasting of the behaviour of the entire system.
We believe that we have technology and data that helps streamlining and accelerating the transition of energy system to higher shares of renewables. Deeper integration will only be possible in Japan, if close collaboration with major industrial players is developed.
Solargis will be taking part in Japan Energy Challenge in London this year, you can read about the other companies taking part in this year’s edition here. You can also find out more about the program, ventures and sponsors by clicking the links.