With the ever-worsening effects of climate change being felt globally and a renewed urgency to switch to alternative energy sources, solar energy is an increasingly favored renewable source in which Spain has long been a world leader. Indeed, Spanish startup RatedPower has designed software permitting wholesale scaling in the development of solar plants. In this, it is the first to automate their design, saving weeks of work and optimizing designs to be more cost and energy effective.
The objective of the Madrid-based startup, founded little more than three years ago, is to “revolutionize the renewable energy industry” and it boasts more than 8,000 projects completed in over 100 countries. To date, its pvDesign software has simulated more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of energy generation for possible future projects, equivalent to almost double the world's current solar operational capacity of 583.5 GW. Major global energy, consulting, construction and engineering companies in its portfolio including Shell, Iberdrola, ENI and Sacyr.
RatedPower has arrived at just the right moment in history for solar energy, as average costs globally have come down by 82% in a decade. Indeed, the global solar energy market is projected to be worth $223.3 billion by 2026, up from $52.5 billion in 2018. All the while, public awareness of the need to switch to renewable energies has increased in recent years, evidenced by 2019’s global climate strike.
Automating complex processes
Until now, it has taken a team of specialized engineers one month or more of intensive work to design solar plants. The RatedPower co-founding team, who previously worked together at Spanish renewables company Solida, realized that manually produced plans often had deficiencies in addition to being extremely time, cost and labor intensive. The plans also often did not have the optimum production output possible. With the growth of solar use and ever-bigger photovoltaic plans, Miguel Ángel Torrero, Juan Romero and Andrea Barber decided to take matters into their own hands and build software automating and optimizing the extremely complicated process of solar plant design.
The aim was to create "a powerful tool capable of optimizing the initial processes – above all, the design of photovoltaic plants so that engineers would be able to concentrate on all development phases in an efficient way,” Torrero told media.
Torrero, a photovoltaic power engineer, became COO; Romero, a solar energy and math expert, who developed a large part of the pvDesign software, became CTO, while business developer Barber became CEO. After completing four acceleration programs between 2017 and 2018, including leading US accelerator Techstar's first ever energy program, the software was perfected and released commercially. During acceleration at Spanish engineering and renewables giant ACCIONA, when pvDesign was still under development, it was found to reduce feasibility study time by 82% and the cost of energy produced by 5%.
The current version requires just a few minutes to enter the parameters for a design, which is produced only 10 minutes later via heuristic algorithms. Among the required parameters are the dimensions of the tract of land to be used – located via Google Earth – as well as its topography and climatic conditions. Other variables include the country, the nearest docking station and the type of panels. The designs also take country-specific legislation into account.
“Until today, there has been no (other) software that automizes this process on the market," Barber told media. “It is a job that used to take engineers weeks. It also lets you optimize the plant and play with its configuration.”
The resulting designs are extremely detailed, comprising more than 300 pages of design and economic information, which is necessary in order to progress to development on the ground. Most importantly, each design provides an estimated energy yield as well as essential documentation. This includes energy reports detailing projected output according to variables, electrical drawings representing the possible circuits, and a bill of quantities that specifies the materials and labor required along with costings.
No investment needed
The cloud-based software allows refinement, comparison with additional plans and further optimization to lower costs, as well as providing a high-level of cybersecurity and encryption. It is available in English and French in addition to Spanish. The pricing depends on the number of projects, while the number of designs for each project and the users for each company are unlimited. PvDesign is available as a SaaS with free demos provided to encourage uptake.
To date, the company has conducted no investment rounds. Its main funding thus far has been an award of €1.6m in EU innovation funding from the Horizon2020 initiative, as well as customer payments.
RatedPower has also received several prizes, including winner of EDP Open Innovation, an accelerator for cleantech run by the Portuguese utility giant EDP. It also won Santander bank’s youth innovation competition Young Explorer with Ideas, coming first out of 900 projects as the best entrepreneurial idea of the year.
After this came 2019's Deloitte Generation Award, a social entrepreneurship prize for young Spanish innovators in its seventh edition, as well as third prize in the Energy category at the China Innovation & Entrepreneurship International Competition in Shenzhen, China. It also participated in the prestigious accelerator Google for Startups Residency in 2019, designed for startups with one or two years of experience.
RatedPower currently runs its entire business from its Madrid offices, where it has 26 staff, though it does have a distributor in China. It is currently recruiting in tech and marketing.
As a female CEO in a sector largely led by men, RatedPower's Andrea Barber is something of an anomaly and has often been the sole female in energy sector meetings and events, a fact she wishes to change. In parallel to RatedPower, she also co-founded and hosts Vostok 6, a Spanish podcast on women in business.