Up until 2012, almost all monitoring systems were deployed on new PV plants. Based on the latest research report published by GTM Research and SoliChamba Consulting, this changed radically in 2013.

The report, Global PV Monitoring: Technologies, Markets and Leading Players, 2014-2018, shows that more than 6.3 gigawatts of older PV plants were retrofitted with new monitoring technology in 2013, particularly in Germany and Italy, but also in Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and the U.S.

What pushes asset owners to invest in a monitoring upgrade for a plant that is already in operation?

First, a monitoring system may not have been installed when the plant was initially built. This is the case for many plants in Italy. In some cases, a plant may be underperforming and the operator may require a more sophisticated monitoring system in order to diagnose issues and increase plant performance.

Second, a new requirement may materialize due to a change in legislation with a retroactive effect on existing plants, as happened in Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, where new control functions became mandatory, triggering large waves of monitoring hardware and software retrofits.

In a third scenario, a portfolio owner or operator may decide to move away from a heterogeneous monitoring approach and standardize on a particular monitoring platform for the entire fleet. Similarly, a plant may be sold to a new asset owner or assigned to a new operations and maintenance (O&M) provider that decides to replace the existing monitoring system with their preferred platform. Secondary markets for PV assets in Germany and Italy have been a major driver of monitoring retrofits.

In a highly competitive and reduced-margin market subject to vendor consolidation, some monitoring solutions may no longer be offered, or no longer available with the same functional scope and pricing model as when initially purchased. For example, some smaller EPC and inverter companies in Italy and Spain have discontinued internally developed solutions.

Similarly, U.S. independent monitoring solutions Fat Spaniel Technologies and Energy Recommerce were acquired by Power-One (now ABB) a few years ago, so a portion of the installed base decided in 2013 to switch to different solutions when their initial five-year subscription came due for renewal. In other cases, a monitoring product or vendor may be losing market momentum or feature competitiveness, and owners may prefer to switch older sites to a more active monitoring provider.

And finally, monitoring retrofits are sometimes driven by an investor’s desire to have its own independent data stream for monitoring and reporting purposes, separately from the one used by the developer, EPC or O&M provider during the warranty period. This scenario alone accounted for approximately 1 gigawatt of retrofits in the U.S. in 2013. Dual monitoring is not limited to retrofits; it also happens for new plants in proportions that vary greatly across countries and segments, and this trend is analyzed in the new monitoring report.

When the retrofit is not motivated by the need to comply with a complex new requirement (like remote controls), asset owners reportedly prefer software-only retrofits, where the new monitoring solution communicates with the existing on-site hardware, either directly or via a server-to-server integration. Such an approach is usually more cost-effective, but it creates new requirements for software platforms to handle a variety of on-site devices in the absence of adopted standards.

However, the quality of monitoring data relies heavily on the functionality and reliability of the monitoring hardware deployed on-site, so owners may decide to perform a complete retrofit -- that is, both hardware and software -- if the old monitoring hardware does not provide the data needed for their operational, reporting and analytics needs.

The choice of a monitoring provider is too often overlooked, and the recent wave of retrofits is likely to raise the awareness among installers and owners that the wrong decision can lead to an expensive and unbudgeted upgrade in the future.

For more information on monitoring vendors’ fleet and growth by country and segment, a comparison of over 100 features across products, an analysis of market prices and industry trends, check out the new report from GTM Research and SoliChamba Consulting, Global PV Monitoring: Technologies, Markets and Leading Players, 2014-2018.