Automated Application and Connection Process for Solar Panels
E.ON’s customers have become more and more interested in investing in solar electricity, this for financial and environmental reasons alike. The interest inevitably led to an increased number of applications for solar panels. The applications took time for E.ON to process, and customers were not happy with the long wait. In this successful collaboration, E.ON and Digpro have decreased the application process with from between 4 and 6 weeks to between 4 and 6 minutes.
E.ON is Sweden’s largest electricity supplier, serving approximately 20 percent of all electricity customers in the country. They handle more pre-registrations for solar panels than any other electricity supplier in Sweden, and have an estimated 25 percent of Sweden’s solar panel installations. Interest in solar electricity had been significant for a long time, and in 2021, solar panel applications started to increase noticeably. However, it was in connection with the rise in energy prices after the summer of 2022 that the increase became truly significant for E.ON.
“Solar panel applications went from just over 2,000 to 4,000 per month,” says Thomas Pettersson, Product Manager at E.ON Energy Distribution. “As a result, processing times increased from between 4 and 6 weeks to 10 weeks. Our customers were not satisfied with the long wait.”
For E.ON, the many solar panel applications also meant that staff was tied up processing them – 2,000 cases equal what a skilled connection technician can handle in a year. The situation was strained, and the department worked hard to handle all solar panel applications.
Thomas and his team had wanted to automate the application and connection process for solar panels before. With the increasing demand, the need became urgent. The requirement was ambitious, and aimed to fully automate the entire process to reduce the time it took to process each application to a few minutes. The two most important systems in the automation were Digpro’s dpPower for network documentation and E.ON’s ERP system SAP for customer information. To succeed, the following was needed:
- A new integration between dpPower and SAP that creates a task in the dpPower module Organizer for each connection case, and automatically documents and records the solar panel installation in dpPower.
- An automatic calculation in the dpPower module Analyzer, which evaluates whether the solar panel installation can be connected to the existing electricity grid, based on the applicable regulations.
- An integration to send the result of the calculation to SAP, approved or not approved. From there, the customer or the customer’s supplier is informed about whether the solar panel installation can be connected to the existing electricity grid, or if an electricity grid expansion will be required.
Based on the requirements, E.ON and Digpro defined a detailed process flow:
- SAP – creates a case from the pre-registration and calls dpPower.
- dpPower – creates an Organizer task and automatically documents the solar panel installation in the planned stage of the task.
- dpPower – performs the automatic calculation and sends the result to SAP. Approved calculations (80 percent of solar panel applications) continue in the automated process, while others are flagged for manual handling.
- SAP – sends approval to the customer or the customer’s supplier, who builds the solar panel installation and sends a completion notice to E.ON.
- SAP – records technical data.
- The customer – can start using solar electricity.
- dpPower – receives information from SAP that the solar panel installation is in operation and automatically changes the status to operational and closes the task in Organizer.
To solve this, a number of modules in dpPower were utilized. Organizer and its module Process Automation is used to control the entire flow. In Process Automation, the flow can be graphically visualized, and automatic steps and decision points can be defined.
In the module Analyzer, the electrical calculation is performed. This is the basis for whether the solar panel installation can receive automatic approval. Numerous parameters are calculated, such as ensuring that the solar panel will not generate excessive loads on the electricity grid.
In dpPower, the actual network documentation is carried out. The solar panel installation is created in the planned stage immediately after the pre-registration has been received by SAP, and the call has been made to dpPower. When the connection is eventually put into operation, the solar panel installation will automatically be marked as operational.
Data validation is crucial throughout the entire flow, as data quality must be 100 percent. This is initially required to provide accurate information to contractors and for the continued operation of the electricity grid.
“With correct data, we have a quality assurance. The system operates according to established regulations, providing a solid foundation for the calculations,” says Thomas. “When the numbers are no longer manually entered, and thus at risk of error due to human factors, we can trust that the calculations are accurate.”
In June 2023, E.ON went live with the automated process. The significant bottleneck, which had been the processing time for solar panel applications until now, was reduced from 4 to 6 weeks to 4 to 6 minutes. This efficiency allowed E.ON to catch up on their backlog, and customers were able to start using solar electricity faster.
This year, E.ON will connect more solar panel installations than ever before. The forecast for 2023 was around 40,000 applications to connect solar panels, but the economic situation is likely to result in about 25,000 applications. The 10,000 solar panel applications that were awaiting approval are mostly more or less resolved. The few solar panel applications that require manual processing are prioritized, and since they often involve minor adjustments to the electricity grid, they are likely to be approved for solar electricity installation. It is these solar panel applications, which require a deeper analysis of the electricity grid, that E.ON’s connection technicians are now focusing on.
“Our connection technicians can focus on matters where they excel. Furthermore, we can provide much better services for our customers. This is clearly reflected in our customer satisfaction ratings, which are on an upward trend”, confirms Thomas. “It is an economic saving for E.ON, as fewer colleagues spend their time on manual work. Customers also save money, since they in addition to using solar electricity for their own use also sell it back to E.ON. We deliver a high-quality service that not only relieves our staff and helps customers save money, but also contributes to the entire much needed energy transition for our society.”