Making Solar Power Plants More Sustainable through Digitalization

[Publisher] ORIX Group


The adoption of renewable energy including solar, geothermal, wind and biomass is increasing around the world as a part of efforts to create a greener and more sustainable world.

ORIX anticipated this growth and now boasts a total net owned operating capacity of around 3 GW of renewable energy around the world. In Japan, ORIX launched its solar power generation business in 2012, and currently operates 930 MW of large-scale photovoltaic power plants built on unused land in 110 locations across Japan.

However, there are several challenges to ensuring that all this solar power generation capacity operates optimally and efficiently.


“Niigata Yotsugoya Power Plant,” the largest mega-solar power plant*1 in Niigata Prefecture

The output of solar power is affected by changes in the amount of sunlight available due to weather and seasons, and efficiently controlling these fluctuations is critical. Furthermore, since solar power generation panels are installed outdoors, overgrown weeds can shadow panels, and dirt can build up on the panels from dust and pollen in the atmosphere and bird droppings. All these obstruct sunlight and reduce power generation efficiency.


At solar power plants, regular maintenance such as weed control is crucial

ORIX Renewable Energy Management conducts operation and maintenance to mitigate these factors, as well as asset management including material inventory management and long-term repair budget formulation.

Kazuhisa Yurita, Head of Strategy, ORIX Renewable Energy Management explains, “If a single solar panel malfunctions, it can affect the output of all panels that are connected in series. This means an issue with a single panel can reduce the performance of the entire connected group, typically comprising of 22 panels. This means that, depending on the system layout, the output performance of hundreds of panels can be affected. There can be 200,000 solar power generation panels at large power plants so they need to be replaced immediately if broken.”

Yurita became aware of these issues early on and pushed for the establishment of ORIX Renewable Energy Management to help address them.


Kazuhisa Yurita, Head of Strategy, ORIX Renewable Energy Management

“We calculated that there would be 20 years of cash flow generated from electricity generated in ‘ideal circumstances’ without any damage or dirt on the panels, and built the business around that. The work does not end once a solar power plant is built. Meticulous operation and maintenance is required to preserve these ‘ideal circumstances’.”



Damage to solar panels and reduced power generation efficiency due to weeds and bird droppings in the surrounding area can be quickly detected using the latest digital technologies. The introduction of digital technology, in addition to the knowledge of solar power plant operation and management that ORIX has accumulated, helps enable efficient operations at power plants, thus reducing operating costs and improving productivity.

Digitalization supporting both people and machines

ORIX Renewable Energy Management was one of the first companies in the industry to digitalize the operation and maintenance of its power generation business. By introducing drone aerial photography for inspections and analysis, we can dramatically reduce the amount of time required for inspection work that used to be done by people. Analyzing the photographed data using artificial intelligence (AI)-equipped software can help people determine the cause of abnormalities and respond to them. As a result, conventional operation and maintenance costs for solar power plants are reduced and electricity sales revenue will be improved.

According to Kazuhisa Yurita, this kind of digitalization is making a major impact at worksites.

“The idea is to digitalize simple, repetitive tasks like data analysis as much as possible. By doing this, we are reducing the risk of human error, allocating resources to the jobs that humans should be doing, and improving productivity. This reduction in manpower means that humans can concentrate on the work that only humans are able to do.”


Analysis results screen of an aerial photo taken by infrared camera

The power of technology, such as software to monitor power generation and inspections conducted using drones, is used to improve inspection efficiency, and the power of humans is used at power plant worksites to replace panels and clean and inspect equipment with the naked eye to make replacements before breakdowns occur. This fusion of technology and human power makes it possible to preserve “ideal circumstances” at power plants.


When asked about changes in his work, Dai Kato, an engineer in charge of preventative maintenance work, explains that the introduction of drones has improved efficiency while also stabilizing the quality of inspections. At the same time, he explains that “at the end of the day, I’ve realized that humans are still necessary.”


Dai Kato, Engineer at Headquarters, ORIX Renewable Energy Management

“Technology using AI can show us areas with abnormalities, but the role of deciding whether there is actually an abnormality or not, and what kind of measures should be taken, is up to us. We also record all abnormalities detected by drones, whether they require response measures or not. This makes it easier to decide whether response measures are required in the next year and beyond and allows us to appropriately respond to abnormalities before they become apparent.”


Juan Carlos Soler, Engineer at Headquarters, ORIX Renewable Energy Management

On the other side of things, Juan Carlos Soler, who analyzes data at the Tokyo office, is one of the people who created the preventative maintenance process using data.

“As an engineer, I am responsible for measurements in the field, but I’m also in charge of things like problem analysis and statistics. I have been involved in the company since its launch in 2018, and I am now involved in the development of software using AI systems. Business and technology are growing at speeds I never could have expected when I joined the company.”

“The data we have accumulated thus far is being stored, and as more information is obtained, the AI will learn from it. Through this, humans will be able to accumulate knowledge and it will be possible to improve our operations.”

Maximizing power generation and aiming for net-zero operation and maintenance costs

“In the future, digitalization will not only improve inspection and maintenance efficiency, but it will also theoretically enable us to make annual power generation forecasts,” said Kazuhisa Yurita. “Our goal is to maximize power generation while incorporating and mastering this cutting-edge technology and generate electricity sales revenue that exceeds operation and maintenance costs.”


Since the establishment of ORIX Renewable Energy Management in 2018, the company is now involved in 86 power plants across Japan (as of August, 2020). In fiscal year 2019, the PR value *2, which indicates the power generation efficiency of power plants overall, has improved by 4%, resulting in improved power generation revenue.

Our solar power generation operation and maintenance business does not stop working once a solar power plant is built, but instead aims for long-term sustainability. Combining the power of humans and technology, we will make the solar power generation business a more efficient business with as little power generation loss as possible.

*1) As of July 2, 2018. Based on internal research.
*2) Abbreviation of Performance Ratio, a standard index in the industry that quantifies the productivity of a power plant, and excludes external factors such as solar radiation and system controls. It is a value that indicates how much power is generated relative to the nominal maximum output power (Pmax) of a solar cell. A high PR value indicates high business efficiency and low operation costs.

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