An Interview with Manuel Losada of Isotrol

Isotrol recently announced that its systems have passed the 100 GW milestone – see REM’s news story here. In order to find out more, REM interviewed Manuel Losada, COO of Isotrol.
An Interview with Manuel Losada of Isotrol
Courtesy of Isotrol

100 GW, a milestone. What are the key aspects that have enabled Isotrol to reach this point?

On the one hand, our experience: We have been working in the energy sector for more than 37 years. We were pioneers in the monitoring and control of the first wind turbines, when they were still experimental prototypes, nearly 30 years ago. All the knowledge we have accumulated is reflected in our solutions and in our Bluence platform, until we reached this achievement, which we are very proud of.

On the other hand, this experience would not have been possible without our clients, of whom we consider ourselves to be their technological traveling companions. The origin of our name comes from Engineering, Software and Control, so we have always had one foot in the reality of our clients’ business, from our engineering side, and another in the digital transformation and technological issues. As they have been evolving, this has allowed us to adapt our solutions to their needs, including new functionalities and services.

Our platform covers the entire cycle: starting from solutions to optimize the management and control of the renewable energy generation, improving its efficiency, to modules to integrate this energy into the electricity grid and solutions for the transactions of this energy generated in the electricity markets. This global vision together with our policy of constant investment in innovation are Isotrol's distinguishing features in the sector.

Of those 100 GW, how many are renewable and in which countries are they?

The vast majority are renewable. Bluence covers different technologies: wind farms, photovoltaic plants, concentrated solar power plants, hydropower and biomass. In recent years, we have also been managing battery storage, a key technology for renewable energies to participate on equal terms in the electricity markets. This is a critical aspect in turn to achieve decarbonization in cities and the rest of the planet. Our solutions are mainly integrated in North America, Europe and Latin America, although we also have facilities in Australia and other geographies, and are now present in more than 45 countries.  

Isotrol offers solutions to manage participation in wholesale energy markets. As a result of the debate around the rise in electricity prices in recent months, do you believe that the marginalist system used by the electricity market is the best? Are there other alternatives?

We have to take into account that marginalist systems have been implemented in the vast majority of energy markets globally, based on the advantage of an offer based on opportunity costs, whose objective and usual result is to transfer to the market sales prices that favor generation and continue investments in the sector. However, in these challenging times, as the most expensive technology sets the price, the rise in demand and gas prices has led to a strong distortion in pricing results. The futures markets indicate, however, that the situation will be progressively regulated, with the usual prices and a continued decline in the following years. We believe that the progressive decarbonization of the energy mix, in which Isotrol participates with its solutions, will lead to a reduction in energy prices and a high stabilization of prices in the near future. In this future of mainly renewable generation, a situation like the current one could not occur, regardless of the pricing system.

We usually hear that renewables are the cheapest energy sources today, but their growing implementation coincides with electricity price increases that we have never seen before. When will we perceive these qualities of clean energies?

Undoubtedly, there is a complex economic situation in electricity prices, which is directly associated with the current situation of the gas markets and its effect on marginal prices. However, the contribution of renewable energies to the reduction of electricity prices has been undeniable in recent years. This contribution will continue to increase once the current circumstances are resolved. A circumstance that, by the way, would have been clearly aggravated if the current percentages of renewable generation had not been available.

What can already be seen is that, for example, on days when it is windier, the market price is reduced thanks to the effect of renewables, compared to what it would have been without them. Similarly, it can be seen that prices during the sunniest hours of the day tend to fall.

Today, renewable energies account for approximately 26% of the total generated worldwide, while a share of more than 85% is expected by 2050. We are convinced that the future energy mix, based on renewable energies, complementary storage systems and active demand management, will progressively reduce electricity costs and avoid situations such as the current one, by decoupling prices and negative factors external to the producing countries.

Asset management is more and more linked to digitalization. Is there still much to be done in this regard? Is there room for improvement? Please, give a grade to the management of renewable assets in our country.

The renewable energy sector is a young sector, undergoing a strong process of both expansion and maturation. This moment is a relevant challenge for all actors, as it allows innovation with great agility, with digitalization being one of the main fields of action.

There is a long way to go, both in the standardization of processes, as well as in quality standards and their digitization, which will increase their operational efficiency.

What we perceive is that great strides have been made in this direction, leading to greater availability of plants and generation elements and, therefore, to greater operational efficiency.

There is a trend towards an increasing professionalization of management teams, and to have state-of-the-art tools with which managers can get the most out of the plants. Managers are faced with the challenge of increasing their operational efficiency, since there has been a shift from having several managers at each plant to having several plants per manager. This is undoubtedly a challenge.

We see the main room for improvement in the ability to make the most of the information available, which is a lot, in order to increase the efficiency of the assets. In this regard, we are already helping our clients with tools based on artificial intelligence and digital twins.

The progressive implementation of renewable generation plants makes the management of the electricity system more complex. What do we need for the system to remain technically reliable? What kind of investments should be made? Are they being made?

Undoubtedly, mainly because, at present, renewable plants have a good capacity to predict their production, but not to manage it. In addition, the stability of the electricity system—in terms of voltage and frequency regulation, for example, or the coverage of unexpected energy demands—relies on traditional technologies that will have less and less weight in the electricity system.

There are two major actions. On the one hand, there is greater manageability in the generation of renewable plants, which is achieved by combining storage with the provision of services to the grid. On the other hand, the grid must be prepared for abrupt changes in production by incorporating intelligent management through various levers to make it more flexible. These levers would be, among others, the storage incorporated in critical points, or the active management of demand with the electric vehicle. These are basic tools to facilitate the integration of energy into the grid. To use a simile: it would be like an orchestra conductor, who ensures that each instrument combines with the rest, achieving harmony.

Are there differences between the management of a wind farm and a photovoltaic plant? Is one easier than the other? Why?

They are clearly different in technical aspects. They are complementary technologies that have specific characteristics.

In the wind sector, we face the problem of maintaining a complex generation system, with multiple mechanical elements at height and with access difficulties (both onshore and offshore). This maintenance requires optimal management of knowledge, planning, logistics and processes to carry out major corrective repairs, where predictive and/or early detection means are necessary to anticipate incidents and adequately plan the ranges of maintenance to be carried out.

Regarding photovoltaics, the problem is quite different, since we do not have height or access difficulties, or mechanical elements challenges (except for trackers), but we do have an infinite number of generation elements distributed over a vast territory, which means that the trees do not allow us to see the forest. This is why we need to have systems that allow us to optimize maintenance management, obtaining the maximum return (in terms of reduction of lost energy) for the resources dedicated to maintenance. In this case, categorization, early detection and integrated management are the pillars for improving operational efficiency.

In general, the trend in wind power is to have wind farms with fewer and larger wind turbines of more than 10 MW, whereas in photovoltaic, the trend is to increase the number of equal elements to achieve higher power plants.

In short, we are facing a very exciting scenario, in which renewable energies and solutions for the Energy Transition are going to make a difference. We also have the luxury of being able to compete at an international level, mainly from Seville, thanks to a team of professionals with great experience in a sector that is rapidly expanding and that generates valuable employment.

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