Solar digital solutions provider Terabase Energy signed a definitive agreement to acquire First Solar’s PlantPredict, a predictive solar modeling tool. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
PlantPredict was developed by First Solar for utility-scale PV modeling, and is aimed at reducing delivery uncertainty by producing field-verified energy forecasts.
PlantPredict has more than a decade of history and has been used to help finance many gigawatts of solar capacity.
The First Solar PlantPredict team will join forces with Terabase after the acquisition is complete, which is expected to occur in October. This is Terabase’s second major acquisition this year, following its integration of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) provider REPlantSolutions.
Terabase CEO Matt Campbell said in an interview with pv magazine that he sees a future of performance modeling characterized by tighter integration with software-based design, cost estimating, and financial modeling. The PlantPredict tool builds on to Terabase’s software applications for utility-scale solar development and management.
The pursuit of one cent per kWh
Terabase was founded in late 2018 by SunPower alums, who built on some of the foundational digital tools and concepts created for large-scale projects. In addition to providing digital software, Terabase is developing tools for physical construction and operations automation.
Cloud-based architecture and process automation are two areas that Terabase is targeting to drive down costs, leading to more rapid deployment and decarbonization. The company eyes a target of driving solar power prices below $0.01 per kWh by 2025.
Campbell said some headwinds exist in this pursuit, as material costs have risen in polysilicon, glass, and steel; as U.S.-Chinese exchange rates have shifted; and as shipping costs are on the rise. Despite this, he said the one-cent figure is achievable. As proof, he pointed to a Terabase-provided optimization and engineering solution for an 800 MW project in Qatar that priced at $0.015 per kWh, a world record.
Module costs have fallen sharply, but balance-of-system (BOS) costs have remained relatively stagnant over the last 10 years, said Campbell, and project soft costs have become more painful. That pain point opens the door for digitization and automation to help drive cost improvements, he said.
Digitization and automation
Many utility-scale solar projects still use CAD layouts, spreadsheets, clipboards, and other analog tools for engineering and construction. Terabase is working to replace that with an all-in-one engineering platform.
Some of the elements of the Terabase tool are in beta, and more details will be released later this year, said Campbell, who offered pv magazine a demo of the tool in use.
The Terabase platform begins with 3D GIS-enabled site surveying, topographic, soil, and watershed analysis. It allows users to create automated design and engineering models, and show locations and arrangements of panels, combiner boxes, inverters, trackers, and more.
An earlier beta demonstration of the Terabase utility-scale software platform.
Next, the tool generates performance models, and creates cost estimates for the project, down to all system components, including module count and cost, wire gauge and length, as well as other system components.
Then, the platform provides a construction simulation, which Campbell likens to the “Sim City” video game. The simulation includes live truck-rolls, cost estimates for transportation costs, construction infrastructure needs, and so on.
Finally, the First Solar-developed SCADA controls system and digital twins are integrated into the system for what the company said is greater visibility into the plant’s operation.
While the company is not ready to disclose what is under development by the way of physical automation of construction and management, Campbell said the company has received some awards from the U.S. Department of Energy for its work in this space. More announcements are expected later this year, he said.
(Read: “Drones, robots, and AI are changing the face of solar and wind farm inspections, literally“)
Campbell said he sees room for improvement in the realm of automation of utility-scale solar construction. Modern module factories are high-tech, with robots, software, and automation, he said. “That’s why modules are so good and so cheap now.” But, as once the module leaves the factory, “you go backwards in time 50 years.”
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