What is a RESCO?
A Renewable Energy Service Company (RESCO) is a company that provides electrical services to consumers from renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic and wind generators.
Its characteristics are:
- The household serviced does not own the generation equipment, it is owned by an external organisation such as a Government agency or the RESCO;
- The user does not carry out maintenance, all maintenance and repair service is provided by the RESCO;
- The user pays a service charge that covers the capital repayment requirement and the cost of providing for maintenance and repairs.
The concept is much like that of a conventional utility in that the generation equipment is not owned by the user and the electricity that is generated is made available to the customer for a fee. The fee charged to the user includes any required capital replacement cost and all operating, maintenance and repair costs plus a profit for the operating company.
RESCOs have been very successful in the expansion of rural electrification projects worldwide because:
- Low income rural households receive electricity without having to invest in renewable energy equipment, something that they would not normally be able to afford of the high initial cost.
- Equipment is properly maintained and components replaced by the RESCO, making sure that the service is not interrupted,
- Equipment is owned by an organization that directly or indirectly represents the users (beneficiaries of the funding).
As a result of all this, donors are prepared to contribute with funding to the RESCO concept because it makes their aid (1) effective, (2) sustainable and (3)accountable.
But they lack specialised software to help them to:
- Select the right equipment for each location,
- Coordinate the installation of large numbers of units,
- Manage the financial, technical and logistics aspects of providing the service
What is RESCO Manager?
RESCO Manager is a web based application designed to become an open source standard for managing the technical, financial and logistics aspects of renewable energy service companies (RESCOs). The third version of the application is currently being developed.
Work on the design of RESCO Manager started in 2001, as part of the EU funded project “Solar Energy for the Outer Islands” and it was first implemented at the Kiribati Solar Energy Company (KSEC) in 2005. Then, in July 2007 a second phase began with the aim of creating a web based application that could become an open source standard for managing the technical, financial and logistics aspects of renewable energy service companies (RESCOs). The software application is called RESCO Manager and it is currently under development.
The software application has been designed to:
- Assist in selecting the optimal system specifications: as a web based application, RESCO Manager stores technical data on the performance of specific components in a given environment. This data is stored in the central database, and when RESCOs need to decide on the optimal system specification, the performance data is provided to them in order to assist in the selection.
- Assist during the installation and commissioning of renewable energy equipment: RESCO Manager facilitates the logistics for the installation of large amounts of renewable energy equipment. This feature was already available in RESCO Manager II, and it was used for the installation of the 1,700 solar home systems in the 18 islands of the Republic of Kiribati Group. The feature is based on the FISH (First Installation Sheet), a document only required for islands without an internet connection. If there is internet, the logistics module to be added into RESCO Manager III will make the installation logistics even easier. Nevertheless it is important that the new release of RESCO Manager keeps all the features that allowed the previous version to function without an internet connection with the outer islands.
- Assisting during operation, maintenance and troubleshooting: Once the RESCO has successfully installed the equipment, then operation, maintenance and troubleshooting starts.
Description of the available modules:
- Technical module: the menus related to the technical module are:
- PV system configuration: This menu offers information on all the parts and components that constitute a specific RE system, with serial numbers or bar codes included for all the parts that require full traceability. With the logistics module this menu will gain in dynamism because it will be possible to select individual components in order to (1) dispose or repair them, (2) replace them, (3) add new components, or simply see all what a specific component reveals in terms of (1) times that it has failed in the past, (2) previous systems where it was installed, (3) performance compared to the same component installed in other systems, etc.
- Monitoring: RESCO Manager III will greatly improve monitoring too. RESCOs will be offered a set of variables to choose from for monitoring (e.g. voltage, specific gravity, water added, weather, etc). It will be possible to assign variables to specific system configurations, for example, if one system configuration has sealed batteries, the application will not ask for specific gravity or water added. Or to specific locations, for example, if one island has a weather station already providing data, the application will not ask about the weather. At the same time, it will be possible toive decide the frequency for each variable. For example, in an island with a weather station, the reading could be done on a daily basis, but if the voltage needs to be taken manually, then perhaps the ideal frequency for voltage would be once a month.
- Dynamic preventive maintenance: Monitoring data, PV system configuration and other relevant technical data will be sent to the central database where it will be compared with technical data coming from other locations and RESCOs. This will make possible to keep on refining the alarms for preventive maintenance. In this way, users will receive up-to-date information on what could go wrong with the system, and receive advice on the steps to overcome the problem. All this is possible because RESCO Manager will be a web based application.
- Troubleshooting and repairs: with the addition of the logistics module, troubleshooting and repairs will gain considerably, because repairs will not only be linked to a specific unit and its location, but to the parts and components that failed, to their brand, technical specifications, etc, Therefore the objective is to design a menu for troubleshooting and repairs that (1) assists the field technician to identify the problem, and at the same time (2) asks for information to be entered in a way that allows the application to learn and keep on refining the accuracy of its diagnoses.
- Financial module: the taps related to the financial module are:
- Invoicing: RESCO Manager III will allow for multiple ways to collect the fee, or the menu will not appear if there is no fee to collect. Some of the various ways the fee can be collected are: paid by the user to the RESCO representative (e.g. field technician), to a third party (e.g. village elders), to a device (e.g. prepayment meter); or it can be transferred to the headquarters via telmo, or paid by a relative at the headquarters. The application will be designed in order to cater for all these various solutions, in a way that offers enough flexible payment options to different users, villages or islands.
- Removal: Removal has two options, either it is ordered from the headquarters and carried out by the field technician that is; the initiative to remove the RE system comes from the field technician. The new RESCO Manager will offer both options, but as well the possibility to decide if the RESCO wants to have both open, or just allow for one of them.
- Direct sales: each service centre in the outer islands becomes a point of sale and this is the menu from which sales are entered, tracked or analysed.
- Asset depreciation: incorporated assets need to be depreciated for tax purposes, and depreciation varies depending if the item was donated or purchased. Depreciation will offer accurate information on the amount that each item has been depreciated, in order to transfer it to the accounting application used by the RESCO.
- Logistics module: the menus related to the logistics module are:
- Stock management: this menu will allow to analyse the inventories in any given location or on transit.
- Tracking feature: this menu will track any fully traceable item, from the time it was entered into RESCO Manager to the time it was properly disposed. In this way the RESCO will make sure that batteries and other similar components are disposed of properly.
How RESCO Manager is being designed?
The tool is designed to be user friendly, flexible, effective and on public domain.
- User friendly means that it should be relatively easy to understand and run.
- Flexible means that it should be able to fit in any given institutional structure, allow for exceptions, and even help to implement modifications to a given structure by just changing the rights and levels of access of a defined group.
- Effective means that it should be useful to effectively manage a rural electrification project and assist the organisation responsible for the operation and maintenance of the equipment by providing the best possible service at the lowest cost.
- Public domain and open source means that nobody can claim ownership of the code, but should be created for the good of all.
Although RESCO Manager is flexible enough to fit in any institutional structure chosen by the RESCO and even facilitate its implementation, there are three requirements to successfully implement the software and the need to fulfil them constitutes an optimal sequence of steps for rural electrification.
The three requirements are:
- Communication: Internet connectivity for data transfer or what is called RICS (Rural Internet Communication Services).
- Hardware: laptop computers for consulting and modifying data.
- Training: population properly trained on the use of the application and related tools (hardware, communication, etc.)
The logical sequence of steps that maximises the chances to fulfil the requirements is:
- Electrify rural schools first or build distant learning centers, and provide them with internet connectivity. The success of this approach was proven by the People First Network in the Solomon Islands (http://www.peoplefirst.net.sb). The project came to prove that it is possible and economically feasible to set up distant learning centers in the outer islands and provide them with reliable internet access. The cost of setting up a V-SAT connexion is around AU$ 3,000, plus AU$195 for the lowest bandwidth, which is more than sufficient to run the software application.
- Distribute low cost computers to all the students. The ideal hardware is a One Laptop Per Child computer (XO). XOs are a potent learning tool created expressly for children in developing countries. They are flexible, ultra-low-cost (US$100 per unit), power-efficient (12 W consumption), responsive, and durable (build to last 5 years in the hands of a child). This is why RESCO Manager is been programmed not only to run on an OLPC, but it is been programmed using the python programming language (http://www.python.org), the same language used by an OLPC to programme its user interface called SUGAR. For more information on how RESCO Manager is involved on the OLPC project, see http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Projects/RescoManager)
- Ensure that along with the computers, all the required tools for learning and managing a RESCO are provided. The tools for learning are interactive multimedia applications, while the tool for managing a RESCO is RESCO Manager.
- Once the people in the rural areas (children and their siblings) are familiar with the computers, the internet, the renewable energy technology, and the tools for managing RESCOs, it is the right time to electrify the households and remaining public facilities. By then families will want to have electricity at home in order to charge the computers and have lighting. The school electrification project constitutes the beginnings of a RESCO, and with the expansion of the services to the households, the RESCO reaches maturity, with the ability to provide electricity to large numbers of customers (e.g. schools, households, health centers, community halls, small businesses, religious centers, etc.).
If done in this way, the chances of success are maximised.
This is why we believe that the three elements (XOs, RESCOs and RESCO Manager) complement and need each other, because:
- XOs need electricity and RESCOs provide it. An XO consumes 12 W only, and thus it can be easily connected to a 100 Wp solar panel with a 12 V battery.
- XOs need to be properly disposed once broken, and RESCO Manager has a logistics module capable of tracking any item (e.g. a battery) until it is properly disposed.
- XOs work a lot better when Internet connectivity is provided, and RESCO Manager needs internet connectivity too in order to transfer data to the central database. This is why RESCOs using RESCO Manager will be willing to set up Rural Internet Connectivity Services(RICS) in whatever rural areas they operate.
For more information go to the RESCO Manager web site