Topics: CMMS in Isolation, RemoteOperations, maintenance, field service management, Remotemaintenance, maintenance management, work orders, #maintenancesoftware, maintenancemanagement, DERs Maintenance
A well-thought-out maintenance strategy gives developers confidence they can generate the renewable kilowatts they sold in their Power Purchase Agreement contract. Utilizing purpose-built maintenance management software provides the developer (IPP) a competitive advantage. Field data and maintenance tasks can be photographed and recorded in real-time and archived for retrieval at any time. Having this critical data to hand gives the offtaker confidence in the transaction.
PV Solar Failure Rates
"On average, solar panels degrade at a rate of 1% each year, which guarantees 90% production in the first ten years and 80% by year 25 or 30." - Paradise Solar Energy.
Based on this statistic, if the developer sells to an offtaker within 5years, by which time, his solar panels will have degraded by 5%, thus decreasing revenue-generating output. Rates of solar panel degradation increase if not properly maintained and cleaned. The offtaker blindly trusts that the developer has undertaken routine maintenance tasks. What if the developer could provide a substantial record of all maintenance tasks and check adequate cleaning and how often?
How Expensive is Failure?
Andy Walker from the US-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that "the cost of O&M for old solar PV systems, was on average $20 per kW a year, whereas now it is closer to $7.50 per kW a year." - Power Technology.
The cost of solar panel operations and maintenance is currently at an all-time low. Developments in technology mean critical elements such as inverters are "more reliable with fewer failures", says Walker. Solar projects are usually associated with modest profit margins. Therefore, it is imperative to maintain low O&M costs to ensure your solar project remains commercially viable.
Let's say the developer decides to sell the solar system to an offtaker after 5years of neglecting his solar panels. His lack of vegetation management led to a breed of fast-growing weeds swiftly taking over a third of the solar arrays, damaging a number of them in the process. Blossoming flowers left panels dirty and pollen-damaged. This damage can reduce efficiency by up to 30%. Once again, the offtaker is taking on the risk having received no evidence of maintenance management carried out on site.
Become a "super offtaker"
"Offtakers have wide-ranging levels of creditworthiness. At the high-end of the credit spectrum are public companies like Google, Apple or Microsoft. They are like "super offtakers" because they have impeccable, investment-grade credit, and they buy a ton of renewable energy!" - Rob Freeman What is an Offtaker?
Offtakers must demand more from developers. Not only could these long-term project owners accumulate substantial savings in initial maintenance checks, but the offtaker avoids the risk associated with their long-term ownership. There is also potential to gain increased margins from their renewable energy investment.
IPPs are responsible for demonstrating accurate, timely maintenance logs, checks, completed jobs, photo evidence, and data collated from their assets. Often an IPP will subcontract to a maintenance company. The endeavour ensures asset longevity and creates a good relationship between themselves and the offtaker. Built trust helps create a reliable reputation in the marketplace, thus potentially generating future sales via word-of-mouth. It is clear how simple cleaning of a solar panel can reap small percent increases in a generation which add up across a sizeable portfolio of sites.
How can Preventative Maintenance Software Help?
Coast explains that, traditionally, renewable energy asset maintenance relied on pen and paper for routine documentation and data communicated via crude software such as WhatsApp and Excell. While many utilities may have an "if it's not broke, don't fix it" mentality, these platforms have proved challenging to track historical maintenance records and take a great deal of time to update and keep teams informed.
Implementing preventative maintenance software demands less time tracking solar array systems manually, makes scheduling work orders simple and allows technicians easy access to historical data at the touch of a button. Incorporated customized alerts suit your site's unique needs. Tracking work orders and tasks will present comprehensive data trends to help optimize your maintenance strategy, saving more time, money and future failures.
PPA (Power Purchase Agreement)
A PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) is an arrangement that takes place between the Investor, Installer and the Offtaker.
Along with general living costs, it will be no surprise that utility bills are on the rise. Consumers are looking for more affordable options for providing their homes with reliable energy they can afford. As technology has advanced, the cost of solar installation continues to fall. This decrease means solar panel installation is a more viable and potentially profitable option for consumers and businesses.
Increased access to data via social media and the internet means consumers are becoming more aware of the negative environmental impacts that fossil fuels and reliance on diesel generators have on our planet. 40% of those surveyed reported that they intend to adopt more sustainable behaviour in the future. These intentions include reducing household energy consumption, increasing recycling and composting consumption, increasing recycling and composting, and buying locally produced goods.
"With the acceleration of Climate Change, the role of renewables will need to expand at a breakneck pace. Advancements in efficiency, the advantage of storage and the overall drop in costs will launch solar electric technologies and applications into a new world of clean, reliable energy production." Source - Sunsense
Investing in solar energy as an affordable and sustainable resource seems a no-brainer. However, a business needs to produce a profit. With all this potential, the solar industry remains a very competitive landscape. To stay on top of the game in an increasingly competitive marketplace, solar installers must avoid these common mistakes.
1. Not Thinking Long-Term
The best part about starting a solar energy business is that its primary resource (the sun) is free. However, it is vital to consider the up-front investment required in installing a solar power system. The question you need to ask yourself when planning any solar power endeavour is; "How long will it take for my installation to start turning a profit?”. Centrica Business Solutions suggests that utility owners and solar panel installers could start to see a return on investment within 3years. While this is an optimistic statistic, the solar energy industry isn't a quick cash scheme.
Investopedia discusses why, in the long run, fossil fuels will get left behind, while renewable energy proves to be more profitable in the long term:
"The cost for solar power in Q4 2019 was below $.20 per KWH in all of the states recorded and below $.15 and $.10 per KWH in some states. The national average for fossil fuel electricity was $0.13. Prices are comparable, but the real savings from solar come in future years due to the 2.2% inflationary prices per year for fossil fuel electricity. With solar, you are locking in costs at a constant rate. The only additional cost factors are the upfront costs of installing a solar system and the fossil fuel electricity costs needed when solar doesn't cover all energy needs."
2. Letting the Sun do all the Work
PV Magazine warns that "The inanimate nature of PV modules easily tricks one into thinking that all that needs taking care of is the owner sitting back and watching how the sun shines onto the array generating electricity and cash. Reality is much more complicated; modules, cables, inverters, and even the weather need to be continuously checked for their faultless functionality to ensure the project can always operate at its best. The tight financial margins of modern solar operations don’t allow much room for error."
Implementing regular inspections, electrical testing, panel cleaning and aligning panels will optimize output generation, stave off outages and ensure the longevity of your renewable energy asset. Without regular checks and maintenance, the risks of outages and fastened degradation rates will directly impact the financial reward and cost thousands in avoidable losses.
3. Neglecting the Inverter
According to Neurons Lab, a solar inverter acts as the "brain" of a solar electric power plant. This "brain" ensures optimal electricity output, controls temperature, gathers data while adhering to standard compliance regulations. Although this vital element is a critical and complex component in the solar system for generating the optimum power levels, thus being prone to having the most issues.
To deal with the disadvantages of current maintenance methods, the solar industry greatly benefits from the early detection of inverter faults by the implementation of predictive maintenance.
EPRI Addressing Solar Photovoltaic Operations and Maintenance Challenges evidences a typical solar PV maintenance cost breakdown across the entire lifecycle of an asset's maintenance. By far, inverts prove themselves to require the most preventative and condition-based maintenance, followed by site work and communications.
The report from Raptormaps that analyzed PV systems inspected in 2020, encompassing 70,121,507 modules across 1,126 PV systems, with a total nominal capacity of 22,032,460 kW showed that:
String faults - affected 173,002 kW, which is 42.4%
Combiner faults - affected 58,247 kW, which is 14.3%
Tracker faults - affected 49,065 kW, which is 12.0%
The total impact of the PV system anomalies analyzed and identified by Raptor Maps represents a net present value (NPV) of $435 million. A vast number for any small-scale solar services business to ignore.
4. Omitting Rapport with Offtakers
"The productive life of solar panels and the electricity production from these panels over time depend on factors such as climate, module type, and racking system, among others. NREL research has shown that solar panels have a median degradation rate of about 0.5% per year, but the rate could be higher in hotter climates and rooftop systems. A degradation rate of 0.5% implies that production from a solar panel will decrease at a rate of 0.5% per year. This means that in year 20, the module is producing approximately 90% of the electricity it produced in year 1".
NERL, Transforming Energy suggests that the failure rate within the first few years of a solar panels lifespan is relatively low. When it comes to selling assets to an off-taker, maintenance might not be the first thing on your mind. Ensuring you can evidence up-to-date maintenance records, checks and data can only increase confidence with an off-taker and build an excellent reputation within the marketplace. Thus, potentially increasing capitalization and transaction, generating a more sustainable business model for future growth.
5. Underestimating the Importance of Cleaning
Let's face it - cleaning is boring. Quite frankly, it is often the last thing you think about when trying to keep a solar business ticking over. However, it is also one of the most overlooked elements to maintaining profitability within the solar power industry.
The International Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology undertook a survey, asking installers how satisfied they were about the performance of their solar PV systems. Their results below illustrate how more than 40% of respondents admit that the performance of solar PV system was poor.
A second survey asked participants how often they clean their solar panels. The results below indicate that an astonishing 50% of respondents do not know if they are obliged to clean solar modules, while 38% clean only when needed, 2% quarterly, 2% twice and the rest which is 8% do once per annum.
This result illustrates a direct correspondence between the cleanliness of a panel and the quality of performance and output an installer should expect. Solar panels are exposed to dirt, debris, unmanaged vegetation and pollution daily. Renewable Energy Hub recommends for maximum efficiency, most manufacturers recommend that your PV array be cleaned every six months.
In conclusion, our research shows us that the most overlooked elements of a profitable PV solar system are the most critical in maintaining optimum power generation, increase in revenue and establishing a powerful reputation in a competitive market.
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But how do you get developers to sell more kilowatts, and thus make a profit?