Post Warranty Solar Farm O&M Options
01/27/2017
Tagged In: O&M, Solar Farms

The number of solar PV installations in the U.S. that are maturing into a post-warranty stage are increasing. For most multi-megawatt installations, asset managers typically have an O&M plan in place since the project was in its engineering and design phases; however, it’s been a long road since those plans were first developed and, as we all know, plans change.

The reasons for seeking a new solution to O&M are varied. Perhaps it is because of failures in the original plan or whether business needs have changed or the company you’ve contracted with isn’t doing the best job. Whatever the case, there are typically three options for post-warranty stage solar O&M from which to choose, including example pros and cons when deciding to choose this option.

1. Stick with the Original Equipment Manufacturers Contract

PRO: Keeping communication open about upgrades to the control systems and the solar equipment.

Knowing firsthand when a control system has been upgraded or improved upon can mean a lot to the bottom line if these upgrades affect performance. Sometimes this also means better OEM parts pricing.

CON: Many Points of Contact.

Going directly to the OEM may mean that you will have numerous points of contact to keep all equipment in working order. You’ll still need in-house staff to diagnose which piece or pieces of equipment failed. This person or team would need to contact the correct OEM and have good follow-up ensuring the anomaly has been fixed. The list of potential contacts may include; the company who manufactured your inverter, the company who manufactured your panels, and then there’s the monitoring system company, the racking company, the combiner company, and the list goes on. Also, note that equipment failures could turn into a finger pointing game where you spend more time than you’d like managing the OEMs and maintenance issues. It might be easier to take the O&M in-house.

2. Manage O&M In-house

Solar power plant owners that choose to manage their own O&M in-house must ensure their personnel:

  • Are equipped with appropriate skill-sets
  • Understand the how the complete system functions
  • Have the qualifications and experience
  • Can manage spare-part inventory
  • Have a firm grasp on quality control
  • Understands and can manage all maintenance procedures – both scheduled and emergency services.
  • Have good time management experience
  • Some of the pros and cons of choosing to manage your O&M in-house are as follows:

PRO: More direct control, and lower costs.

Not having a flat monthly fee and being tied to an ongoing contract certainly is appealing. Your costs are tied directly to the employee’s time and the cost of parts and other maintenance needs. You are assured that you are only paying for services you need. Managing solar O&M in-house will allow more control over maintenance. You set the schedule, make the inspections, keep spare parts inventory in check, clean panels, and monitor the system for anomalies. If there is a failure, it’s under your control.

CON: More pressure on managing staff, and time/energy becomes dedicated to maintenance.

Optimizing PV system performance completely depends on the in-house staff. O&M will only be as effective as the people managing it behind the scenes. Hiring, firing and managing staff takes time and energy. Staff must understand how to meet performance targets and be able to effectively perform the scope of services required for preventative maintenance as well as emergency services. Should an employee be underperforming, the effect can trickle down to degrade system performance, too. While you have complete control of the maintenance when managing it in-house, you may not have the resources to effectively manage it 24/7/365. 

3. Sign a Deal with a Third-Party Provider

You may have contracted services from the EPC company that constructed your array for O&M after the system was commissioned. Now you’ve discovered that just because a company built your solar array it doesn’t mean they are the best people to maintain it for years, or even decades down the road. They may have already failed as an operator since the system went live, or other issues have cropped up. Or, you may have been managing your solar O&M in-house and the headaches of doing it all yourself are just too overwhelming. Whatever your obstacles have been, signing a deal with a third party provider may be right for you.

PRO: Third party providers are focused on O&M only, and are cost effective.

Few companies are positioned to only offer solar O&M services. A company that takes on the challenge of offering O&M services as a stand-alone service will be highly motivated to operate and manage your solar power plant to the highest standards. It is their core business, so you should expect excellent customer service and the highest quality workmanship. In addition, outsourcing solar O&M can be more cost effective because you will not be adding permanent positions to your existing work force.

CON: There may be a learning curve.

The lack of familiarity with the ins-and-outs of your particular system may take some time for the technician to get acquainted with its nuances. If you have decided to go with a third party solar O&M provider, you’ll want to be confident that the company will conduct a complete system review as soon as possible. This will ensure they are up to speed with what has happened during the development and construction phases and will know as much as possible about the system to proactively schedule maintenance. In an emergency situation, you can be rest assured that long troubleshooting times won’t be needed to cypher out system-specific design or operational issues.