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Solar O&M: 4 Things to Expect (and Demand)
Leveraging renewable energy isn’t a “set it and forget it” proposition. Like any piece of technology, especially one that is expected to perform for 25-35 years, a solar installation needs to be monitored and maintained to avoid and mitigate unforeseen issues.
Operation and maintenance (O&M) of a solar asset — also known as “asset management” — is either performed by the asset owner under the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA); or, if the customer owns the asset, they can agree to a separate O&M contract for upkeep.
The goal of asset management should be more than just keeping the renewable energy equipment operational. It’s about maximizing the potential of the asset at all times — by tracking data, analyzing it and making the necessary adjustments. And in addition to reacting quickly to address needed changes, taking preventive measures at key points in the solar array’s lifecycle is paramount.
When considering a new solar array, it’s important to understand the importance of asset management — and, what to expect from the vendor who executes it.
Here are four key things you, as a new solar energy customer, should expect:
1. A Strong Support Team
O&M actually begins before the time the solar array is turned on. With so many components in play, technical experts will need to develop a model to ensure that all equipment is installed properly so that the customer’s expectations and contractual obligations are met. After installation, a dedicated team will continually look at the energy production and financial return of the array to ensure expected returns endure for the life of the asset.
2. Consistent Monitoring
Asset management should involve remote monitoring of all equipment to track its performance in real time. The O&M team can see data on a short-term (hourly, daily) and long-term (weekly and monthly) basis, to review how the energy output tracks with expectations and find anything that would indicate a malfunction. This kind of decision making, based on detailed data, can lead to quickly catching a problem and/or making adjustments on-the-fly that are needed to maximize clean-energy returns.
3. Quick Response
Expect members of your asset management team to be ready to react fast if there is a problem with any portion of the solar equipment. A thorough contingency plan will detail who will respond to which issue, who will access the property (if necessary), and how to communicate the situation. The customer will also be involved in developing a mitigation plan, for full transparency and zero surprises.
4. Preventative Care
Just like a car needs regular maintenance to run smoothly and efficiently, solar equipment requires regular check-ups as well. Expect to have at least an annual servicing of the installation to prevent problems before they occur. This regular maintenance will include visits from the O&M team, which can be timed to mitigate disruption to any other activities on the site.
A solar array is an investment, thus in addition to reducing your energy bills immediately (and enjoying those guaranteed savings over 25+ years), the asset itself should continue to add value to your site.
The goal of asset management, therefore, is not just to keep the gears turning on a solar array, but to reduce the volatility of its energy output over the long term. As you investigate your options, be sure to insist on an asset management team that hits all the notes listed above — and help ease your burden, while ensuring the maximum return on your solar investment.
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