All operations and maintenance plans are not created equal. They go by many names these days, from "solar asset management" to "PV investment backstop," but the diversity of services performed and the teams behind them rarely allow for an apples-to-apples comparison.

There are a variety of factors that influence a plant owner’s bottom line, and it’s essential to understand which O&M services are needed and which provider is capable of minimizing unnecessary operational expenses while maximizing lifetime energy yield.

A properly maintainedsolarplant can increase energy yield by up to 30 percent, making a plant owner’s O&M strategy key to achieving long-term profitability.

GTM Research estimates the global operations and maintenance market for plants larger than 1 megawatt will triple by 2017 to reach 150 gigawatts, making effective O&M a critical component to PV investment security. So what should a PV plant owner look for in an O&M provider?

Real-time remote monitoring

Every O&M provider is going to offer some level of monitoring, but owners need to recognize the difference between simply monitoring a PV plant’s performance and actively managing a solar asset using the most advanced technology available. The difference lies in an organization’s ability to utilize the analytics and expertise to diagnose and remotely resolve challenges in a proactive timeframe before they turn into larger complications.

As an added level of security, some companies offer 24/7 remote monitoring through their globally distributed service network. This level of service is becoming increasingly valuable as PV plant owners expand their portfolios across substantial geographic regions. It is also an important consideration for new system owners who are inheriting an aging PV plant that is using outdated technology. 

A system owner with a robust and well-rounded O&M plan that includes real-time remote monitoring can realize a wealth of advantages that will maximize performance while minimizing downtime, including:

  • Performance profile analysis to ensure maximum power generation
  • Quick reaction to alarms and assessment of on-site service personnel needs
  • Automated ticket creation and dispatch of field service engineers as necessary
  • Thorough reporting on performance, uptime and financial information
  • Management of preventative maintenance schedules and timely completion
  • Rapid response to utility and grid operator needs
  • Tracking and reporting on warranty claims

Risk reduction

Owners must realize that every potential issue with a PV plant represents a risk factor. Those risk factors carry monetary consequences that can negatively affect profitability or even destroy it entirely. Performance derate factors such as module soiling, compromised wiring, shading caused by overgrowth, and other plant-wide risks can seriously affect system operation and production, resulting in lost revenue.

An effective O&M provider does more than simply check the boxes on a list of tactical duties. O&M providers must mitigate risk factors by proactively identifying potential issues and addressing them before they can impact an owner’s bottom line. In other words, the greatest risk reduction will be achieved with an O&M provider that is motivated to maximize plant performance and value for the owner by future-proofing every aspect of the PV plant.

Scalability

As with any investment partner, an operations and maintenance provider must be able to adapt to an owner’s business model while continuing to deliver a consistently high level of performance in their service activities. This means the ability to address both commercial and utility-scale O&M by offering a menu of options that suit an owner’s needs for a variety of plants within their diverse portfolio.

For instance, an owner with extensive experience and a robust, in-sourced business model may opt for a preventative O&M plan that covers the essentials, while a leaner-run organization would likely benefit from a bumper-to-bumper package that addresses all performance-related factors. The best solution is to contract with a service partner that can address long-term growth and profitability on the owner’s terms. 

Experience and expertise

With the O&M market expected to triple in the next few years, owners can expect legions of new entrants competing for their business. We’ve seen the same activity in the inverter, module and BOS segments and have come to the same conclusion: there is no substitute for experience. Owners should ask themselves a few fundamental questions to help determine whether or not to place their investment in the hands of an O&M provider, including:

  • What is their installed base?
  • How large is their service team?
  • Do they specialize in solar equipment?
  • How long has this company been in business?
  • Is their service organization globally extensible?
  • Have they shown technological innovation and leadership?
  • Do they have expertise in the complexities of PV inverter servicing?
  • Are they a bankable organization that can fulfill long-term service obligations?
  • Has this company been recognized by reputable third parties for their service strengths?

In addition to the size and longevity of their organization, an O&M provider should also have a diverse team of subject-matter experts to support plant owners. They must have the bench strength to jump into action no matter what challenge has arisen. This is particularly important when it comes to the PV inverter, which is the brain of the large-scale PV plant. Since any plant-wide faults and alarms will be communicated through the inverter, it is imperative to partner with an O&M provider that has extensive experience and expertise with PV inverters.

As a global leader in solar technology and a company whose service organization has been ranked No. 1 in the industry by third-party analysis, SMA has the best O&M team to represent the needs of PV plant owners. That’s why SMA has been trusted with countless commercial and utility contracts since launching its plant-wide O&M service only one year ago. SMA has successfully built upon its experience as the largest servicer of PV inverters in the world with more than 30 gigawatts installed globally.

Dedication to solar industry health and growth

For serious players in the O&M space, this isn’t a cash grab. It’s an opportunity to promote the health of the solar industry by strengthening the investments of plant owners. It’s a chance to show the community at large that solar is a viable, long-term power source that has the ability to change the way we live.

In order to maintain a positive public perception, solar must be viewed as a reliable, trusted investment. As such, selecting an effective O&M partner is essential to the continued growth of the solar industry.

For more information on SMA America’s utility and commercial O&M offerings, please visit the SMA America website.