Clean Tech

When data is the sunshine

Preeti Mehra | Updated on November 17, 2020

AI-powered software helps in the efficient implementation of solar projects

Years ago, when co-founders of SenseHawk, Rahul Sankhe and Swarup Mavanoor, worked together in US company SunEdison, a leading player in solar energy sector at that time, they would often meet to discuss issues relating to the solar projects they were implementing.

Most of the time, the design involved large parcels of land and they found they lacked data to help make decisions. Even if they flew down engineers to the site, they could only walk five or ten acres and not cover the entire area. In many cases, as the construction went forward, they found the ground realities did not match what had been envisaged. Many of the employees ended up working in silos, land decisions were not optimal, resulting in the need for course corrections and wastage in time and resources.

“We thought there must be a way out of this problem and that we had to have good data during the execution of projects,” explains Mavanoor. They decided to capture data through drones for the purpose and flew a few of them.

“Thanks to the images, engineers had some idea of what they were dealing with,” he explains. The drones gave them the initial “foot in the door” as they hit upon the idea of starting their own business and building AI-powered software for the entire solar site lifecycle. This would work alongside the drones and automate the construction of large solar plants.

Today, two years later, SenseHawk is a digital cloud-based platform that enables customers to take sound data-driven decisions when they develop, build and operate solar projects. The application modules on the platform are put to different tasks, they support site and terrain management, help monitor construction, operations, thermography, work management and file organisation. “A mobile app extends the power of the platform and brings data to field techs so they have all the information they need at their fingertips. It also supports onsite navigation, enabling users to easily navigate to allocated tasks on sites that can be 1000s of acres in size,” say the founders. Both have a lot of experience. Sankhe has worked in the Silicon Valley and with McKinsey, has been MD of SunEdison in India and managed large businesses in Australia, South Africa and Thailand. Mavanoor has been designer on the Indian hand-held device Simputer and driven the design team of SATHI, the hand-held intelligence system for counter insurgency in India. He has worked with Cypress Semiconductors and SunEdison’s solar irrigation business, so innovation is second nature to him.

Software makes it easier for the company’s team to work across time zones. Of the 60-member strong team, it is the data and GIS support team that comes in for the maximum pressure. “Every client has a different way of keeping data, excel, pdf, even manually, so bringing it all together and applying software tools can sometimes make it very cumbersome. We are in 15 countries now and are in the process of setting up our Abu Dhabi office from where it will be easier for us to service clients in several countries internationally,” informs Sankhe, who is President of the company.

Anticipating client needs

Competition too has to be kept at bay, in this case it comes from biggies like IBM and Oracle. But the trick is to anticipate client needs and innovate to fulfil their demands. SenseHawk has also managed to garner good funding for its expansion spree. Recently, it raised $5.1 million in Series A1 funding in an institutional round led by Alpha Wave Incubation and follow-on investment by SAIF Partners.

Mavanoor says their easiest market has been the US because people there are open to innovation and come forward to try out new technology. India too has been welcoming, with the Adani group using their software for its large solar projects. India’s target for solar energy is fairly ambitious at installing 100 GW by 2022. The pandemic is going to make it even more difficult as there is still 63 GW to go in the next 30 months. But for SenseHawk, the story could be different. As they look ahead. Mavanoor and Sankhe are confident they will not be out of work.

Published on November 17, 2020

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