Solar Specialist greentech enhances efficiency and transparency in Technical Operations Management with TabTool
As a development partner of TabTool, photovoltaic specialist greentech was involved in shaping a digital documentation solution for technical operations management. The mobile cloud software TabTool PV O&M has since been ensuring increased efficiency and transparency in greentechs technical operations management.
With a team of 135 employees at multiple locations in Germany and the United Kingdom, greentech is a leading expert in project development, system planning, technical consulting, construction, as well as the operation and management of photovoltaic power plants. In technical operations management, the company headquartered in Hamburg currently manages a portfolio of over 400 installations with a total capacity of more than 1 GW for institutional, municipal, and private investors. This positions greentech as one of the largest PV specialists in Europe.
The company was founded in 2008 with a focus on photovoltaic services and initially specialized in the commercial and technical management of PV power plants. In doing so, greentech faced a challenge familiar to many in the industry: the documentation of inspection, testing, and maintenance work on the installations was very time-consuming and often of unsatisfactory quality using handwritten protocols. "In addition to the actual work on the installations, many of our service technicians saw documentation as a necessary evil. When they had to come back after a longer inspection tour to compile their handwritten notes along with the photos taken on the site into reports, it was very labor-intensive and also carried the risk that photos could no longer be clearly assigned or information could be lost," recalls greentech Managing Director Jörn Carstensen.
Digital plant documentation instead of paper-based processes
As a result, greentech began to look for a digital solution that would allow O&M professionals to create documentation as easily and efficiently as possible directly at the installation site. A ready-made software that could satisfactorily achieve this was not yet available at the time - but there was a promising approach from three IT consultants from Quickborn that greentech learned about: Under the name TabTool, Ulf Stabe, Bernhard Scharf, and Dirk Brockmeyer had developed a prototype of a cloud software that could be used to document testing processes on tablet PCs.
To unlock the potential of TabTool for the maintenance and inspection of photovoltaic systems, greentech and the newly founded tabtool GmbH combined their expertise in a development partnership in 2014. Over several weeks, tabtool's developers and a team of operations managers and service technicians from greentech worked together to adapt the software to the specific requirements of O&M services. Greentech incorporated its expertise into the development of standard protocols and checklists that are essential for the assessment of photovoltaic systems. Additionally, the photovoltaic specialist aimed to comprehensively digitize the technical infrastructure of the systems.
Starting from spring 2015, greentech employees were finally able to use TabTool in their daily work. Although some initially met the "digital tool" with skepticism, the feedback among the first users was very positive after a short testing and familiarization phase. In the first year of using TabTool, greentech managed approximately 90 plants with a total capacity of 450 megawatts in the field of operations and maintenance, and also conducted assessments for more than 100 systems.
Save Time-Consuming Follow-up work at the Desk
Since then, TabTool PV O&M has been further optimized and expanded with additional features based on the experiences gained from its daily use at greentech. The software significantly reduces the time required for documenting plant maintenance and inspections: "With TabTool, we can immediately capture, categorize, and assign each activity and issue digitally. This allows us to nearly complete the documentation of a task right at the facility, saving us time-consuming post-work at the desk," says Philipp Oletzky, Project Manager in the technical operations management at greentech.
TabTool also facilitates the collaborative processing of assignments by a team of technicians, such as during the inspection of large photovoltaic power plants in the megawatt range. Kenneth Heidecke, who regularly leads such teams at greentech, explains: "Through the TabTool app on tablets or smartphones, everyone always has access to important data and information about the assignment. All team members work together on a project, and images, notes, and voice memos are centrally stored without any media disruption. In the end, a complete report can be automatically generated from the data. This is much more efficient than compiling protocol sheets and photos from several employees into a report in Excel or Word."
Real-time Connection Between Plant and Control Center
Another major advantage of TabTool: The cloud software optimizes the rapid exchange of information between the plant and the control center of technical operations management. While technicians in the field work with the app on a tablet or smartphone, project managers in the office use the TabTool Office web application on their PCs. This provides extensive control and evaluation capabilities. The TabTool cloud synchronizes Data in real-time between the app and the web application, ensuring that all members of an O&M team have the same information, no matter where they are. "There might of course be instances when you don't have an internet connection on a site, especially in very rural areas. In such cases, the app stores all entered data offline until the mobile device regains network access," explains Philipp Oletzky.
From the control center, project managers like Philipp Oletzky coordinate all inspection and maintenance assignments in TabTool Office. Based on the maintenance schedules for the managed plants and reports from monitoring, they create work orders in the software, such as for an annual inspection or repair. These orders can be assigned to one or more technicians, who are then notified about the new task assignments through app notifications. All the information needed to complete an assignment is stored by the project manager in a digital work order file. This includes details about the services to be performed, checklists of inspection points, documents such as location and circuit diagrams, and the contact details of all relevant contacts for the assignment. If the task is a follow-up inspection, deficiencies from previous inspections can also be linked in the work order file. In this case, on-site technicians only need to add information about the progress of defect correction.
Customized Protocols for Structured Inspection Processes
Since a feature update in spring 2022, it has become even easier for project managers to create inspection protocols in TabTool that are precisely tailored to the requirements and scope of different service contracts. They combine pre-made components such as service packages and checklist modules, which can be customized and expanded as needed. This way, greentech's modular O&M service packages are accurately represented in TabTool, and field technicians receive precise instructions on which inspections they should perform on a facility and to what extent.
"Since the protocols and checklists in the TabTool app provide a highly structured outline of the necessary inspection points for a task, new colleagues and external specialists can quickly familiarize themselves with the inspection processes", reports greentech project manager Kenneth Heidecke. In a time when the workload in the technical management of PV systems is challenging to handle without continuously expanding teams and involving external partners, TabTool thus supports rapid and efficient onboarding. Who has access to which data of an O&M project and to what extent can be precisely defined by the project manager. TabTool provides various project roles and access permissions for this purpose. "Especially when working with external service providers, we can ensure that they only have access to the data required for processing an assigned task," says Kenneth Heidecke.
More Control and Transparency in Operations Management
The fact that in TabTool PV, the entire technical hierarchy of a photovoltaic system can be stored and digitally represented – from individual cables to transformer stations – provides valuable information to the O&M project managers at greentech, e.g. regarding the maintenance susceptibility of individual system components. Because for each component a comprehensive service and defect history is created over time in TabTool. "With the help of filters and lists, I can display exactly the project information I need in an evaluation. This makes it easy to extract decision-relevant information from the abundance of collected data," explains Philipp Oletzky. Furthermore, a global calendar displays all dates and deadlines from all ongoing projects. If a deadline approaches, the project manager and the responsible service technician automatically receive a reminder.
greentech's CEO Jörn Carstensen appreciates that the quality of documentation and efficiency in technical operations management have been significantly enhanced through the use of TabTool: "While the preparation and scope of reports used to vary greatly, we now have a consistently high reporting standard across all inspection teams. Our clients receive comprehensive, well-structured reports that significantly surpass industry standards. This provides them with the utmost transparency regarding the condition of their photovoltaic system and the work conducted on the system."
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