The commercial photovoltaic industry continues to grow at a record pace and shows all indications that it will continue to complement and even surpass conventional energy production methods in the future. At the same time, there is a growing need for professional and experienced service and maintenance providers, as solar panels are an investment that needs to be protected and cared for.
As many facilities across the country find it difficult to operate at the production facilities that were promised during the development phase, the operation and maintenance of solar panels (O&M) are now an integral part of the operational requirements of any photovoltaic system. Undoubtedly, the value proposition of solar operation and operation has been created over the last fifteen years for a variety of reasons: from low profitability on projects to safety hazards that lead to costly repairs. Requirements to maintain and optimize site performance should be in every contract.
In the industry we have seen that due to an aging system and new technologies the requirement to remove and replace part or all of an existing system is being considered and is becoming more common. This requirement is often accelerated due to delayed or ignored scheduled maintenance plans.
It is difficult to understand how a system can be left without a maintenance plan or necessary repairs, but this happens regularly and at different times in the life cycle of energy production. The reasons for this delayed maintenance or even downtime vary, but they range from poor budget planning to company turnover and asset management. This can cause an even much bigger problem than low performance.
The biggest hidden price is unsuccessful expectations of electricity production and the ability to remove and replace some or even all expensive system components. Customers plan, forecast and budget based on expected capacity, which is estimated at the design and construction stage. The future funding and business model of a PV developer can seriously affect an inefficient project or a missed opportunity to accurately predict the long-term cost of replacing a system.
Expensive repair costs, long downtime, and additional resources to manage and repair an asset can increase rapidly. Any component of the system can fail, and every component that is not cared for will break down over time and fail.
Finding and contracting with a reputable and experienced PV O&M provider can be time consuming and challenging. Learning about the scope of services and at what price can be difficult if you do not find an experienced and qualified service partner. Many service and maintenance providers offer a standard service menu that can be customized to fit the volume and schedule of your particular site. Ask your service provider to explain in detail and offer their complete offers and ask if they have the experience and ability to remove and replace an older existing system. Developing a relationship with a qualified full service provider is now more important than ever to ensure the expected energy production.
It is important to remember that not all sites are designed or built the same and are not shared. A clear and planned maintenance plan is essential to a customer’s return on investment. This maintenance plan should be configured according to the system for which it is maintained, not the overall look that is appropriate for each system in the “park”.
Preventive maintenance should be carried out at least once a year. However, the characteristics of each site will be different. The farm may need to service several services a year, and the college campus may only need an annual visit. The utility site may require constant maintenance and repair. It is important to look for a vendor who can design a maintenance package that meets the needs of each system. Data acquisition systems (DAS) can provide a set of useful information that shows the service provider what and when the required maintenance services are needed.
The optimal time to clean the solar modules or install the tracker program can be determined using the DAS, as well as replacing the system fuses and modules. Visual inspections, including drone flight and thermography, play an important role in scheduling maintenance tasks, and site photographs are always an important resource.
Reputable service providers will always submit reports after the completion of any service. This documentation is important for efficient system maintenance. It has a detailed scope, schedule and service history that are unique to the system. This can also save time and money for the manager or owner in the short and long term of the life of the power systems. Maintenance documentation can be a necessary requirement when deciding on warranty coverage, and many warranty owners will not provide services without it.
While documentation may require more involvement from the owner or manager, it allows you to more closely review and protect your investment. Regular maintenance can mean the difference between short-term annual high service life or long years plus, reduced service life and, ultimately, a corresponding return on investment. Reaction services in the PV system are usually expensive, and a complete unit replacement may be required to return the system to service. Systems that operate with 95% -99% availability per year of production tend to receive high return on investment and increase customer and industry confidence
In the life of each object, system or component there comes a time when it is necessary to decide to repair or replace some or all of them. The alternative is to lose the asset and its expected value. An active and long-term maintenance plan is essential to maintain and ensure production, but even in this case, time may be affected and the system will need to be rebuilt. When considering this complex solution, be sure to contact those companies that have experience in the full range of services needed to work.
It is important that you choose a company that can provide critical services that ensure that your project is executed with the expected value and reliability, and that the project uses the latest design and components. With a reliable provider of operation and maintenance and a long-term maintenance plan your solar asset can be productive for years to come!
Wayne Williford is an experienced technical expert with expertise in a variety of industries and more than thirty years of experience in testing, deploying and supporting advanced technology and sophisticated mechanical systems.
Wayne is currently Vice President of Operations at Day Electric and has served as Vice President of Commercial Operations and Operations at Stellar Energy, SunSystem Technology, Business Development Director at REC Commercial Solar, Vice President of PV Services Group at Soligent and Director of Maintenance and Warranty at SPG Solar, Mr. Williford led teams of technicians responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of more than 300 large-scale commercial solar photovoltaic systems.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of pv magazine.
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