The renewable energy industry is on the upswing, and IEA has the stats to prove it. By the end of 2023, the global renewable capacity additions will be as high as the total installed power capacity of Germany and Spain. How did this happen? After all, countries around the world have been thinking about sustainability for years. And not just thinking, but taking political and regulatory action.
One of the reasons behind this is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Without Russian fossil fuels to rely on, European leaders had to quickly respond to the energy crisis and make renewable energy more accessible to homes, communities, and commercial facilities.
Despite the surge, we still have to mitigate many challenges of renewable energy. The challenges we are going to talk about here are substantial and complex. Software is a crucial element of the solution.
Big problems, like siting, transmission, and storage, are tackled by clean energy innovations from global software companies working with governments. But private and residential initiatives also benefit most from custom software for clean energy.
Increasing political support, growing concerns about energy security, and the falling cost of renewable energy have made more people and organizations open to sustainability. So, if you have an idea for custom sustainable energy software, now is a good time to make it happen.
Let us guide you through the renewable energy challenges and how enterprise and custom software can address them. We will also give you hands-on examples of renewable energy software solutions that pave the way for a sustainable future.
Understanding the Challenges of Renewable Energy
China, the EU, the USA, India, and the UK are responsible for 63% of global electricity consumption. They all plan to increase their share of renewable energy by 2030. But until then, these leading economies need to step up their investment in R&D, policy support, and infrastructure development.
Here are the largest obstacles on our way to reaching net zero. Let’s take a closer look at these and other energy market challenges.
The first thing renewable energy facilities require is infrastructure. The governments switching to green energy need more physical and organizational components to support the initiative. This includes new facilities (power plants and farms), storage systems, transmission grids, and last but not least, skilled workers for maintenance and management. Each new plant requires a substantial upfront investment.
However, quite a few plants have been in operation for decades: some wind turbines in Europe are older than 30. The outdated infrastructure needs to be maintained and/or modernized. If the increased output additionally strains the existing infrastructure, part of it must be replaced.
Fluctuating demand and reliability
One of the biggest challenges in renewable energy is matching production with demand, regardless of weather conditions or the time of day. We can add more fossil fuels when we anticipate a peak in demand, but we can’t direct more sunlight to PV panels. We can identify which regions have more wind, but we can’t provide the wind speed needed to generate enough energy at any given time.
Maintaining grid stability becomes quite challenging when there’s a struggle to effectively balance electricity generation and consumption. We need to think about new solutions to provide renewable energy plants with the same flexibility and adaptability as their fossil fuel counterparts.
Not every location is suitable for renewable energy plants. Then again, if you generate green energy closer to the consumer, transmission is less of a problem (more on this later). But what if the perfect site is on someone else’s property? So many problems, so few solutions.
When choosing a location for a power plant, you must consider various factors, including access to resources, topography, and geography. It’s crucial to avoid conflicts over land use, prepare all the necessary paperwork, assess the environmental impact, make the site accessible to workers, and address many other regulatory and logistical concerns.
How do you transport energy to users when green energy sources are so decentralized? And is it possible to transmit energy over long distances, let’s say, from Arizona to Minnesota, without losing much of it along the way? To do that, we'd have to modernize the existing infrastructure and build bigger, thicker high-voltage lines. And if you decide to transmit your energy to other countries, cross-border regulatory complexities present yet another challenge.
Green energy storage systems must be cost-effective, reliable, scalable, and safe for the environment and people around us. Current options are:
- Batteries (lithium-ion, lead-acid)
- Pumped water
- Compressed air (CAES)
- Thermal energy
- Gravity storage
Although these and other storage methods work well for different purposes, they are far from ideal.
Speaking of ideals, we must not stop perfecting the methods and machines we use to extract and generate energy. Developing better solar panels, modeling wind turbines for maximum efficiency, designing reliable and durable materials, and experimenting with batteries—these and other technological challenges are hindering the mass adoption of renewable energy.
What’s more, making solar energy economical is one of the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century, according to the National Academy of Engineering in the US.
Political, economic, regulatory, and social obstacles
Last but not least, we should not forget that not everyone is happy about green initiatives. Renewable energy plant owners often have to deal with political pressure and lobbying, government policies, and, of course, people who own the land or live nearby with “NIMBY: not in my backyard!” signs.
As a software development company, we must accept that software can’t handle all these challenges. But it's perfect for solving some of them.
The Role of Software Solutions
Without software, renewable energy management, optimization, and monitoring would be virtually impossible. Software applications in the energy sector help with resource assessment, predictive maintenance, smart grid management, remote monitoring, modeling, and more.
Data analytics and predictive modeling
Starting off strong, global data analytics leaders empower renewable energy systems with more accurate resource assessment and weather forecasting.
Companies in the renewable energy sector use AI to assess resources such as wind patterns more accurately. Vestas Wind Systems, one of the largest manufacturers of wind turbines, has teamed up with Microsoft and minds.ai to develop a proof of concept to optimize the wake control of wind turbines. The POC combined AI and high-performance computing to model and control this shadow effect, capturing the energy that would otherwise be lost and generating more power.
Another software titan, IBM, has been working on the AI-powered IBM Renewables Forecasting Platform. The solution offers a 15–30% improvement in solar and wind forecasting compared to publicly available weather models, and a 5–10% improvement compared to competitors.
And, of course, software solutions can help green energy companies with one of their biggest challenges: demand forecasting. If fed enough historical data, AI-based solutions can predict trends and peaks in energy consumption and help plan clean energy generation better.
Smart grid management
Software solutions make electric grids smarter, ensuring efficient demand and storage management, optimization, and waste reduction. Digitalizing energy grids also allows you to integrate renewable energy sources into the existing power grid. On top of that, smart energy devices offer:
- Real-time monitoring
- Load balancing
- Energy rerouting
- Better resilience
- Energy cost saving
- Power flow understanding
Case in point, NVIDIA is working with innovative green companies like Utilidata and Anuranet to create smarter, cleaner, and safer power grids using its Jetson AI platform. Even cutting-edge smart meters allegedly cannot use energy-related data because they lack computing power. But Jetson-powered smart meters can take readings tens of thousands of times per second and gather information about the quality of the power flow, interferences, and much more.
Remote monitoring and maintenance
Software solutions improve the management, monitoring, and maintenance of renewable energy infrastructures and assets. With a combination of sensors, IoT solutions, and analytics, you can get a comprehensive overview of the energy infrastructure, even in remote locations. Solutions for remote monitoring and maintenance also offer:
- Maintenance history
- Data management
- Data visualization
- Troubleshooting in real-time
Sensors make it easy to assess the well-being of various assets, and forecasting algorithms allow renewable energy companies to predict asset failures and schedule maintenance as needed. This helps avoid long downtimes and plan maintenance costs.
Exploration of new clean energy sources
Software solutions can combine various data types (meteorological, geographical, seismic, satellite, etc.) to explore new green energy sources and assess their potential. They can also calculate which renewable energy sources work best for specific locations and what sites are optimal for specific energy generation.
Regulatory compliance and reporting
Energy production and consumption are highly regulated, with carbon credits and a whole range of renewable energy certificates. Software can make life much easier by setting up automated reports, validations, and instant notifications about updates and changes in the system or across the organization. You can also program it to check for new standards and regulations that energy companies must follow to avoid fines.
Simulation and modeling
Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical objects (power plants, power grids, wind turbines, etc.) that can be used to model various scenarios, materials, and physical effects faster and more cost-effectively than real objects. For example, NVIDIA and Siemens Gamesa have simulated wind farms using NVIDIA’s digital twin platform and machine learning. Shockingly, it can simulate fluid mechanics up to 4,000 times faster than conventional methods.
All these software advances and sustainable technology trends motivate companies in the renewable energy sector to consider investing in custom green energy solutions. But can they be truly efficient when it comes to problems on a global scale?
Is There a Place for Custom Software Development in the Renewable Energy Sector?
Yes, absolutely. Custom software may not be able to make as much of a difference as IBM or NVIDIA. Still, the renewable energy sector has many smaller issues that custom software is well-equipped to handle. After all, communities and small and mid-sized businesses need affordable and sustainable energy. Not to mention that governments tend to support businesses with green energy initiatives.
Custom renewable energy software development brings us closer to a low-emission future, one app at a time. Some custom applications can help monitor the community’s energy consumption, show usage patterns, or give tips on energy efficiency. Others can combine data from various sources to help businesses monitor the performance of their solar panels and track energy production.
Custom software is all about convenience, flexibility, scalability, and security. What’s also important is that it allows vendors to customize their products to their customers’ needs. Custom software is the way to go if you need an app with particular integrations, want to train it on your company’s sensitive data, plan to scale your solution to numerous branches across locations, or require different levels of access permissions.
Custom Software for Renewable Energy Systems: Types & Features
On a smaller scale, sustainable energy production mirrors many goals and challenges of nationwide green initiatives. Therefore, custom software for renewable energy often uses the same features, technologies, and approaches as large-scale applications, but fine-tunes them to individual requirements.
Upgrading custom renewable energy software with AI takes it to the next level. This drastically improves its capabilities, including:
- Weather forecasting
- Energy distribution and storage management
- Load forecasting
- Smart grid management
- Sensor data analysis
- Predictive asset maintenance
- Anomaly detection
- Automated monitoring
However, AI models are only as good as the data they train on, which must be accurate, clean, and unbiased.
Adding sensors and custom IoT solutions to renewable energy systems makes them more efficient. These solutions work with real-time data and are perfect for:
- Remote asset monitoring
- Predictive maintenance
- Energy storage management
- Environmental monitoring
- Inventory management
- Security and surveillance
Whether it’s a large power plant or a home PV station, custom IoT solutions can help monitor and manage it.
Blockchain for energy trading
Blockchain technology can be used to develop custom decentralized peer-to-peer energy trading platforms. It will make renewable energy transactions traceable and transparent so that producers (people, communities, and companies) with surplus renewable energy can sell it securely on the market.
At the same time, blockchain and decentralized platforms guarantee secure and automated transactions for consumers buying green energy. Smart contracts also allow consumers to verify the origin and source of the energy they buy.
Robust protection against cyber threats is critical for custom green energy solutions, whether used at a power plant or a smart home. Data encryption safeguards against data interception, while intrusion detection systems sound the alarm if a cybercriminal appears.
Custom cybersecurity solutions protect energy systems against malware, unauthorized access, data manipulation, and theft. One should remember, though, that if renewable energy systems are connected to existing power grids, cybersecurity measures must be taken to protect these grids, too, and minimize power interruptions.
Energy management software (EMS)
Custom software can also optimize the energy efficiency of buildings and other facilities by collecting and analyzing historical and real-time data and generating user-friendly reports. Smart HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) control systems, lighting control, utility bill tracking, building simulation modeling, facilities management—all these tools and functions can be part of an EMS for buildings.
The beauty of custom software is that it’s tailored to meet customer’s needs and goals. It includes particular functions that a renewable energy company will need when an issue arises. Here are some examples.
Real-World Examples and Case Studies
We have explored examples illustrating how custom software, consisting of our developed solutions, can benefit renewable energy businesses. Here are our preferred solutions and favorites:
A solar energy data portal
Developed by Techstack experts, this data portal was created for a US solar energy generation platform. The robust and scalable solution allows collecting, storing, and analyzing solar energy data from different providers.
With data collected hourly and securely stored in-house, the solution also offers a user-friendly visualization of solar energy production and usage.
IoT Sensor Kit solution for real-time environmental monitoring
The IoT Sensor Kit is another custom solution developed by Techstack. While not specifically designed for a renewable energy company, it includes real-time environmental monitoring.
A US company specializing in roofing materials needed a solution that would use data from temperature and humidity sensors to maintain the quality of their products. As a business that provides IoT engineering services, we delivered the IoT Sensor Kit—a proof-of-concept device with temperature and humidity sensors and an infrared camera to capture data in real-time.
Custom software for a solar roof company
A Swedish company that manufactures solar roofs wanted to expand into other EU countries and the United States. They needed a custom solution to facilitate the expansion since roof types, regulations, and target customers differed from country to country.
The delivered solution, SunRoof Business Panel, optimized sales reps' work and provided a range of tools for sales in different countries. Now, it takes them as little as 15 minutes to create a customized offer.
Custom AI-based software for wind farm supply management
A global leader in wind turbine installation needed a solution to eliminate inefficiencies in the supply chain and assembly process, reduce costs, and increase ROI. To achieve these goals, the software provider developed a custom machine-learning platform that used an algorithm to evaluate each supply chain and assembly factor in real-time.
As a result, the customer saved between $600,000 and $1 million per project, saving over $3 million in the first 18 months after the solution was implemented.
The momentum for clean energy continues to build, driven by strong political support, escalating fossil fuel prices, and growing concerns about energy security. The demand for energy that is both cheap and accessible is a major challenge that transcends political boundaries. While custom software cannot solve global problems, it has proven helpful in integrating operations, automating key processes, and streamlining workflows for renewable energy companies.
With the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, customized software is becoming increasingly important as it helps communities and small and mid-sized businesses be sustainable.
At Techstack, crafting custom solutions for the energy sector is our commitment to supporting both our customers and the environment simultaneously. Whether you have a specific goal to achieve or an issue to address, feel free to reach out to our team. We're eager to collaborate with you and develop a sustainable, green solution tailored to your needs.