The solar industry traditionally focuses on counting the new megawatts that are being installed. But when it comes to the business of operating and maintaining power plants, it is the cumulative installed capacity that matters, as these systems are expected to produce energy for a lifespan of twenty to 25 years, if not more.
In a new report, Megawatt-Scale PV Plant Operations and Maintenance: Services, Markets and Competitors, 2013-2017, GTM Research and SoliChamba Consulting estimate that the the global O&M market will be at 40.8 gigawatts by the end of 2013, and forecast a spectacular run of growth exceeding 100 gigawatts in the next four years. This will bring the total O&M market size to 150 gigawatts in 2017. In comparison, the Energy Information Administration reports that the U.S. currently runs 305 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants.
What this means: megawatt-scale solar PV plant O&M is quickly becoming a real business on a global scale.
By 2017, the report predicts that a majority of the global PV market from megawatt-scale plant O&M will be located in Asia, particularly China (51 gigawatts), India (12 gigawatts) and Japan (9 gigawatts). Meanwhile, the Americas will reach 28 gigawatts, mostly in the U.S. (21 gigawatts) and Latin America. Europe will grow to 35 gigawatts by 2017, at a relatively slow pace, driven largely by Eastern Europe and the U.K. (while the rest of the region stagnates).
Each of these O&M markets shows very distinct characteristics.
In recent and fast-growth megawatt-scale markets like China, India and Japan, the PV industry is focused on development and construction of new plants, and O&M duties are mainly considered as a subset of EPC or IPP activities. Although plants are maintained, this is often an afterthought: O&M does not exist as a standalone business.
In more mature markets like Germany, Italy, France and Spain, where construction of large PV plants is slowing down or stalling, O&M can provide a viable and steady source of income for starved development and EPC companies, as well as a strong opportunity for independent O&M firms. Italy, for example, is experiencing a PV maintenance gold rush. As stated in the GTM report, “Many plants among the 2 gigawatts activated in 2011 are exiting their warranty periods in 2013, thus providing an opportunity for O&M providers to capture contracts for these older plants.”
As for typical price points and service levels, they are all over the map, ranging from bare-bones warranty preservation maintenance plans to all-inclusive service plans, and from 4,000 euros to 30,000 euros per megawatt (or more).
For more information on global O&M markets including market size and forecasts to 2017, competitive landscape, service levels, prices, trends and future outlook by country, as well as definitions of O&M activities, strategies and cost factors, contact GTM Research to inquire about the new report Megawatt-Scale PV Plant Operations and Maintenance: Services, Markets and Competitors, 2013-2017.
(Note: an earlier version of this article stated the market would hit 146 gigawatts. The revised forecast now shows 150 gigawatts.)