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Introduce digital technologies into the construction and development phase of renewable energy projects to ease pressure and stop spiralling operational costs.

George Giles
Mar 28, 2024

Welcome to Capgemini’s ‘Future of’ series, in which we explore the challenges facing global energy and utilities businesses today and the opportunities these challenges create.

Here, George Giles, Director, Head of Energy Transition & Utilities at Capgemini Engineering, explores the pressures mounting on developers in the renewable energy market and explains why implementing digital technology now is key to relieving those pressures and saving money further down the line.

In our last article, we detailed how a “first come, first served” approach to connections and a UK grid infrastructure severely behind what’s needed to hit national targets, are key contributors to the slowdown in renewables investment. In fact, the queue to connect is so long that it takes, on average, 6-10 years to gain consent, which means when a project finally does get off the ground, with it comes immense pressure on developers to deliver from the get-go.

Supply chains, costs, and land use conflicts.

At the best of times, the supply chain waits for no developer. Factor in geo-political conflict and the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic causing a shortage of critical components, like solar panels and wind turbines, and the timelines and costs agreed with a funder three or four years ago will likely have become outdated.

There’s also public opposition to deal with. Though the opinion of the UK population is generally “renewable energy = good”, plans to construct renewable energy infrastructure are frequently contested by residents, raising concerns over land use, aesthetics, noise pollution, and the impact on local wildlife. And so, time and effort are spent on public engagement and communication strategies to keep the development moving.

The impact of these pressures has a huge knock-on effect for the rest of a project. As a developer laser-focused on driving costs down and getting the project over the line while meeting the performance guarantees and specifications agreed, you’ll find no breathing space to focus on lifecycle costs, integrated solutions, and long-term flexibility. Should the operation of the plant be suboptimal later, not only do you face a potential loss of revenue from not producing enough power, but you could also incur hefty penalties from the grid for not delivering to expectations.

How can technology meet the challenge?

Digital technology solutions can ease the pressures in this phase of renewables projects and set you up for success in later phases, by supporting project management, providing visibility and real-time insights, improving accuracy, and increasing collaboration. Consider the following:

  • Digital Twins. These virtual replicas of physical systems – that can model, simulate, monitor, analyse, and constantly optimise the physical world – are at the core of transformation across sectors. Traditionally, it’s not until building a project that you unearth most problems. With a digital twin, we can conceive a renewable energy project in a digital form, including what it looks like, how it operates, and what its lifecycle will be like before we’ve even put a spade in the ground – allowing us to work through any potential issues and get it right first time. This is a great way to enhance stakeholder communication and engagement; creating greater visibility of the project before it has been built. Continuing to use the digital twin once the plant has been built, working alongside the running of the plant, can help you optimise operations using real-time data fed back into the model.
  • Generative AI (Gen AI). This is the hot topic of the moment, but what does it mean in practice? In the operation of renewable energy assets, it’s about learning what good looks like. Alongside a digital twin and digitalised project, Gen AI learns how to operate that plant in the most efficient way – taking a reiteration of what good looks like and playing it back. This technology is most often passed over because of time, money, and effort, but its implementation should happen now, during the construction and development phase, instead of trying to fit in the pieces retrospectively. Gen AI and digital twins are integrated solutions that you can use for the whole lifecycle of the project which generate significant savings. 
  • Internet of Things (IoT). In this new era of network management, preventative to predictive maintenance, and remote tracking, it’s imperative for businesses to quickly and cost-effectively adapt and innovate to securely connect their assets and devices. IoT services offer a great way to do this – ensuring various assets on your renewable energy plant communicate with each other so that you can make sense of the vast amounts of data they now generate. If you think about it in the design phase, before construction, not only can you reduce the capital costs, but you can also positively impact the operational costs by reducing service, spares, and maintenance teams.

Below is the theoretical investment required for the lifecycle of a plant from “cradle to grave”.   There would be a large initial Capex spend to design and build the plant and then several smaller optimisation projects during the lifetime of the plant. The aim of these is to keep baseline Opex costs as low as possible, over the lifetime of the plant, as they will be the most significant by far. Good up-front design, using some of the techniques already explained and, importantly, thinking about the optimal operations and maintenance of the plant, can help us work towards this most efficient solution.

Figure 1: Capgemini optimum return on initial investment – lifecycle approach

The short and long-term benefits of acting now.

These digital technologies have both short and long-term benefits but need to be implemented early. By introducing technologies such as digital twins, generative AI, and IoT, in the construction and development phase, the industry can take advantage of better engagement with financial backers and lower operational costs. Bearing in mind the operational lifetime of these projects is measured in decades, every percentage increase in savings on the life cycle costs becomes significant.

How can Capgemini help?

With deep industry expertise from 17+ years’ experience in wind and solar, we’re keenly aware of the need to accelerate, de-risk, and scale, in all lifecycle stages of a renewable project. Our specific experience comes from solving these complex challenges in various global markets with an end-to-end approach from consulting through to engineering. We master the complexity of the renewables landscape to help you define the best way forward.

Capgemini’s market-leading capabilities in Intelligent Industry, converging the digital and physical worlds in the way we’ve discussed above, and trusted delivery excellence in both the development and execution stages, offer our clients accelerated time-to-market and increased scalability.

No matter what stage you are at in your renewable energy project, we can help you put your best foot forward now, to ease pressure and reap the rewards later.

Get in touch with George Giles or connect on LinkedIn to start the conversation today. Stay tuned for the next instalment of our Future of Renewables series, in which we’ll explore the challenges and opportunities of the operations & maintenance and decommission phases.

Explore our ‘Future of Series’ blog page, click here to learn more.

Meet our speaker

George Giles

Head of Energy Transition & Utilities
George joined Capgemini in September 2022 as their Sales Director Energy and is focused on unlocking the value of digitalisation to the Energy sector. Previously George was the European Sales Director for Babcock & Wilcox responsible for all European sales and was focused on delivering decarbonisation solutions into the Waste to Energy and Biomass sectors. Prior to this George was Head of the Environmental Power group for Siemens centred on the renewable power generation sector for the UK and Ireland. George is a Chartered Engineer with a degree in Electrical & Electronic Engineering and an MA in Sales Management with over 25 years experience in the Industrial Automation arena. He has worked for a number of major manufacturers including Honeywell, Rockwell and Schneider Electric. George has a passion for engineering and as a STEM ambassador he is working with local schools in promoting engineering as a career of choice. In addition he is actively involved in the running of Derby Rugby Club.