—— exclusive interview with Marcel Suri, managing director of GeoModel
Report from CSPPLAZA
As a member of SolarPower Europe (former EPIA ), International Solar Energy Society (ISES) and Slovak Association of Photovoltaic Industry (SAPI), GeoModel Solar, a technical consultant, developer and operator of the SolarGIS database and online system, has always been dedicated to increase efficiency and reduce uncertainty in energy assessment of solar power projects. Actually, SolarGIS solar resource data and software services cover globally a territory occupied by 99% population on the Earth.
The other day, Marcel Suri, managing director of GeoModel Solar Company, has attended an technical seminar on observation and evaluation of solar energy organized by Beijing RETEC New Energy Technology Co.,Ltd. After giving his excellent speech on the solar energy assessment and application of satellite data, he accepted an interview with CSPPLAZA, sharing some valuable opinions about the solar resource data, their company’ s current condition and plans for future development as well.
CSPPLAZA：As we all know, GHI data can be obtained from satellite data simulation, what about DNI data which is definitely important for CSP, what are the main access to get them?
Marcel Suri: The DNI data is also produced by models which use satellite images, so both DNI and GHI are from the same suite of models, just there are more complex models for calculation of DNI. Satellite data is used for estimating the effect of clouds. In calculation of DNI data, also information about aerosols (pollution of the atmosphere) is important.
CSPPLAZA： Are there any other main institutions in the world just like you provide the same data and who are they?
Marcel Suri: There are several databases where one can find DNI or GHI values, and these data bases come from public institutions like NASA, American data base, or from a few private companies. And we are one of these companies which are offering these type of data. For China, I would say that choices for companies to find data sources are relatively limited, there are more data available in America and Europe, but not so many for Asia and China. Besides the objects, there are probably too much more data bases and many people know them.
CSPPLAZA：what characteristics should best organization providing data have? Could you please tell us some that impress you most?
Marcel Suri: well, it is kind of difficult to say. I think the best are those who are providing professional set of services. Good data should be based on the models, which are scientific sound, and can be validated by measurements from meteorological stations. Apart from providing accurate data, these best organizations should also provide expert services, such as technical support to satisfy the needs of customers in solar industry.
We should not forget that the role of high-quality solar resource and meteorological data is to significantly reduce risk in technical design and financing of solar power plants. Our computing infrastructure offers data updated in real time so that can be used for monitoring, regular performance assessment and forecasting of solar power. It is obvious that good-quality modeled data can be in turn used for systematic quality control of ground measurements.
CSPPLAZA： Compared to these institutions, what is your advantage and disadvantage?
Marcel Suri: I think our advantage is that we have all the deep scientific knowledge, we also have our own tools and software, moreover, we understand what we doing and we have lots of experience.
We are working in this field for more than 15 years, probably we are one of the largest groups in the world, which is dedicated to solar energy resources and photovoltaic power evaluation. When compared to methodological agencies who have fifty thousand employees, we are small but they are not focusing on such a specific field as energy meteorology and energy simulations.. A number of experts who deeply understand solar modelling and solar measurement in a large company may be still limited. In contrast, our company has a number of professionals in this domain. We are also cooperating with scientists in different research organizations, who are active in this field and keep us in a closer contact with scientific development. In my opinion, what is also our benefit is that we understand the industry and we know what people are engineering and what they need.
Regarding to disadvantage, I think we are probably not fast enough in our growth and development to meet all the growing and very diverse needs of solar energy industry worldwide. Yet we are taking steps, such as building our presence in China and be a more active player in the Chinese market. There is a lot of work to do, in terms of development and customer support, not only in China but also in other countries. The solar industry needs more knowledge about state-of-the-art procedures and about modern meteorological data. It is not easy to communicate efficiently these knowledge and to train fast enough. I don’t think it’s a big problem and it will be overcome, it’s just a current situation, for example, in China, the PV and CSP industry grows very quickly, but the number of experts who have experience in specific technical issues is not growing so fast, so this problem is not unique for our own company. In general we have lots of ideas for further development and increasing efficiency. One of challenges it to find good experts, but it’s just natural process in the beginnings of each industrial field, and I would not consider it as a disadvantage.
Our company focuses on a narrow field and people we hired are experts in this field, so we can provide useful expertise in digital meteorology and solar energy simulation to engineers, financial people and so on. By this focus activity, we are still able to answer even difficult questions on various aspects.
CSPPLAZA：we know that SolarGIS is a major product of GeoModel Solar, and you must have spent lots of energy in it, but is it your only product? Do you have or will develop some new ones?
Marcel Suri: Yes, SolarGIS is our only product, and this name integrates a number of applications that are based on the use of a unique global database that includes all solar and methodological parameters important for solar industry. SolarGIS also includes software, which is used for energy simulation and software tools and which serves the data to customers for planning, monitoring and forecasting. SolarGIS integrates all our data bases and software applications under one roof. By the way, there are more applications in SolarGIS that have their specific names, for example, pvSpot, climData and pvPlanner.
CSPPLAZA： we have learned that you have developed a variety of photovoltaic applications such as pvPlanner, pvSpot − will you specifically develop tools for CSP, do you have any plan?/ why not ?
Marcel Suri: we are planning to develop tools and make it possible to better manage meteorological data, solar radiation, but we don’t have intention, at least not in a short horizon, to develop analogy simulation tools like we have in PV. Because there are many technologies in CSP and need front software, which is more complicated than PV, therefore, in short term software development, we focus more on photovoltaic.
What’s more, I think CSP market is as important as PV market, and the reason why we choose to focus more on PV rather than CSP is that there are more companies in PV market for which we can offer our services, both in China and globaly. CSP sector tends to focus on specific regions and need professional experts, but we don’t have engineers who have rich experience in solar modeling.
CSPPLAZA： There is no denying that SolarGIS is playing an important role in PV market, and how about SolarGIS in CSP market, has it been accepted widely?
Marcel Suri: In CSP market, our data and services are very well accepted in all markets. The proof is that these data is used in most of the projects, which have been planned within last years. It’s only the U.S. market with well-established competing solutions and where we came relatively late. We also have competitors in other regions of the world whose focus are CSP, such as, Middle East, North and South Africa, China and Chile.
CSPPLAZA：At present, we wonder if SolarGIS data has cover every area across the world and carry out overall monitoring? How many areas in China has SolarGIS data covered?
Marcel Suri: the data base is almost global: this means that we do not cover polar regions (areas at latitudes higher than 60 degrees), due to the limitation of geostationary satellites. We have some gaps over ocean. Referring to China, we have already covered the whole country and provided our services to a number of projects including both PV and CSP for last 3 years. Actually, we have been enjoying a growing number of customers, especially in last year. I have to say that companies in China are improving their understanding of the importance of good data and put lot of effort in developing the needed expertise on how to use quality solar and meteorological data in modeling, technically design and financial projections. This trend is positive, which reminds me of trend in Europe where SolarGIS started to serve data and services for solar energy in 2009. At first industry paid more attention on technology and project development without being too much concerned about the potential data issues. After some time, they became more aware of risks and started to search for high accuracy data for more economically-effective operations. Similar can be observed in China these years, where PV and CSP industries are improving theier understanding of the importance of the solar and meteorological data and professional services that are accepted by banks.. This process is natural and it will move in China fast.
CSPPLAZA：How would you evaluate the data services that SolarGIS has provided to China? Do you think it accurate or not perfect? Do you plan to improve these data services, and in which way?
Marcel Suri: For us and probably for everyone, providing solar data, central Asia and eastern Asia are difficult regions, from meteorological point of view. In certain aspect, these regions are not so well-known as some other regions, there is alos lack of experience. I would compare it to Africa, where the data availability is low and impact of geographical conditions on solar power plants is less understood. We have been providing data and services to companies in China for 3 years. We see strong potential for improvement and clear benefits of investing into development. And thanks to developments and data awareness of the industry, we are able to do that. Thus we can rely on supportive feedback from industry. As we are able to grow in other markets, like America, Africa and Europe, in the same way we see a good potential for improvement and development in China. In a word, I say it’s positive.
CSPPLAZA：DNI satellite data is used for preliminary assessments of CSP projects, often, people tends to combine measured data with satellite data, then how to combine these two data?
Marcel Suri: Site adaptation of satellite-modelled longterm time series by short term ground measurements is a very typical procedure applied in CSP and also in large scale PV. The goal is to improve the accuracy of solar resource and meteorological data in energy simulation and in financial calculations. We managed to develop expertise here, thanks to our involvement in CSP projects planning in Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Morocco, India, Turkey, Chile, Brazil, Thailand, North America, but also in China. We have developed a lot expertise in these markets, so it is easy to apply this experience to the Chinese market. So we don’t lose extra time and money.
I also want to mention one thing that you don’t ask. In China we have a challenge in terms of data exchange, mainly ground measurements. We have difficulties with existing regulation, which seems to give administrative obstacles in exchange of data between foreign and Chinese organisations. This creates a barrier in the international collaboration and prevents economically-effective development of solar industry in China. Commercial exchange of solar and meteorological measurements is vital element of each renewable energy project, in the phase of planning and also operation. I hope the administrative regulation will adapt to match better the needs of the solar energy industry.
CSPPLAZA：You know, China CSP demonstration project is going to start, but it seems that some project owners don’t pay abundant attention to the accurate DNI data, what’s your opinion and suggestions on this phenomenon?
Marcel Suri: historically, I saw that technology providers overlooked the importance of solar and meteorological data in the first hand, but it naturally comes later, once the technology moves into the next step, requiring technology optimization, increased efficiency of engineering and involvement of financial institutions. We see this situation is changing also in China. When you start developing a project, you suddenly realize that, Ah, I need to know more about the solar resource (which is fuel to the power plants) as well as geographical conditions (as they determine the operational conditions and production efficiency of the power plants). Frankly speaking, sometimes it takes time for project owners to realize that they need to be more careful about the choices of data and related services.
CSPPLAZA：If one wants to provide the most accurate data, he will combine data from other institutions in a large or small degree. Actually, Mr. Suri, we are very curious about the way you get data, with all due respect, will you buy any data from other institutions and what’s the expenses?
Marcel Suri: Typically, the project developers make a decision what data should be procured. They can use data from the meteorological agency, from us or our competitors. There are several choices and this decision should be made based on the objective evaluation of the accuracy, reliability, and support by knowledgeable experts. The data should come from a source that could be validated. For example it should be possible to compare satellite-derived data with ground measurements at a detailed time resolution (at least hourly values), so that the quality can be objectively evaluated.
As a matter of fact, we also rely on external data that are used as inputs to our models, such as satellite data and data from atmospheric and meteorological models. We also use data from meteorological stations – for design, calibration and validation of the models. Some of these data inputs we buy, some others are available for free. In order to have a good data base, we also have to systematically invest into having access to different sorts of data.
Our budget for the above-mentioned data is comparable to the costs related to the procurement and maintenance of hardware, software and storage systems. I do not know the exact number that we pay for data, because it just keeps growing. Especially as we geographically expand the real-time data services, such as nowcasting and forecasting. Some services in China are in the stage of commercialization, and they require more investments. What we need is to balance the cost of input data with benefits from selling the output products and services.
What is more important than data input, I think, is in-house development. We have a quite large team of people, about 35% of the team capacities are working on the development and research.
CSPPLAZA：What are your thoughts about prospects of CSP and PV in China?
Marcel Suri: Chinese solar industry is booming, it started with PV and now it turns to be also CSP. In terms of economical growth and building clean energy, there are opportunities that need to be carefully evaluated. Although many people say that CSP is not as competitive as PV, and CSP is more expensive, but it may play its role in the power generation portfolio of China. It is important to explore the technical and economic potential of combined CSP and PV.
China is geographically diverse country, offering vast opportunities for sustainable economic development based on clean solar and other renewable sources of energy. However, to avoid large mistakes and to optimize the technology portfolio, we − as solar energy community − have to invest into more rigorous exploration of climate and geographical conditions and related risks that affect technology operation and financial performance.