Cypress Creek Adopts Power Factors to Scale Operational Excellence
A key component of Cypress Creek Renewables (CCR) long-term growth strategy has been a focus on operations and maintenance (O&M), with a strong emphasis on standardization and process efficiency. To support world-class O&M, CCR has made substantial investments in a NERC-CIP certified control center in Durham, NC, an advanced analytics team, as well as training in their local communities to develop skilled workforce. Kyle Cooper, Director of Operations for CCR’s new control center and Joe Brotherton, Executive Vice President of O&M are charged with supporting CCR’s aggressive growth while adhering to CCR’s mission of delivering low-cost renewable energy. For both, implementing an automation technology platform built to work at their projected scale was a critical next step.
Over the past 4-5 years, CCR leadership has focused on developing working partnerships with utilities and land owners to support growth. Now, to sustain their economy of scale, their priorities have shifted to driving down costs. At a high level, renewable plants are like all power plants – an efficient plant is a profitable one. For solar, however, human labor, rather than fuel, dominates costs. CCR understands that the cost of labor to maintain plants will not be decreasing and wants to hire for the long term. According to Brotherton, “Reducing costs, therefore, means optimizing people by improving the “O” of O&M. If we can do more before the truck roll, we minimize costs by making people who do the work more effective.”
“When we rolled out Power Factors, I spent less time on software admin and more on improving plant performance.”
- Zoë Little, CCR O&M Administrator
Issues of scale
Brotherton noted that solar as a whole “is a young industry.” Its recent focus on installation and growth has meant “many solar plants were built without foresight around O&M.” Each plant has its own configuration, operating process and automation technology. When CCR’s portfolio totaled 200 MW, their engineering team easily managed performance. Now, with over 290 plants across 14 states, operating across 13 different data acquisition systems (DAS) has introduced process complexity.
With scale, system heterogeneity became a major source of inefficiency, cost and frustration for operators, engineers and analysts. Beyond spending time learning how to work with the subtleties of each system, control center personnel were splitting their attention across 13 monitoring screens to detect outages, taking multi-tasking to a whole new level. The analytics team dealt with multiple data extraction procedures when creating reports and finally, nuances in data presentation, made advanced troubleshooting difficult because the heterogeneity introduced too many inherent variables. Instead of making CCR efficient, native automation technology was forcing O&M personnel to spend time on software administration, manual data integration and complicated process.
Trying the DIY approach
CCR knew that they needed a more integrated technology approach. Maintaining status quo could only mean more workflows, local processes and time spent on making automation systems work together. Cooper said, “Every time you’re doing software administration, you’re not taking care of solar plants.” When they tried to consolidate systems themselves, the technical legwork and research only took more time away from plant management.
Brotherton saw no alternative to adopting a platform that would scale across their portfolio. After evaluating other solutions, Cooper and Brotherton saw multiple advantages to working with Power Factors. Built on industry-standard platforms like the OSIsoft PI System, Microsoft Azure and Salesforce, PFDrive had the reliability, scalability and the native integration with operational workflows they needed right out of the box.
For Cooper, it was the combination of Power Factors’ services and technology that was the differentiator. His team had no time to project-manage a DAS migration project. Cooper noted, “The dedicated Power Factors project manager was always very clear about their engineering timelines so that we could align our own efforts on back end systems.” There were even a few unexpected benefits. Cooper added, “It was great opportunity to audit and true-up any differences between electrical drawings and what was really on the ground.” Brotherton emphasized the data quality tests at each implementation stage were critical to ensuring CCR would be working from a trusted data foundation, critical to standardizing operations and creating transparency across the organization.
Both Cooper and Brotherton joined CCR believing they would fundamentally change the way we make power. Adopting Power Factors as their single platform is helping CCR eliminate process complexity to reduce cost and grow their services based on a top-tier reputation. Looking forward, CCR only sees more opportunity to work with Power Factors to further advance their “O” to optimize their people, strengthen their relationships with partners and community and make clean energy available to more people.