Distributed PV boom to lead to serious growth in O&M services

The distributed solar market is projected to boom to 18GW of installed power by the end of 2017.

With this growth, the O&M industry in PV could see an upturn in business, due to the increased size in distributed, and the growing awareness about the vital importance of a cost-effective strategy.

The amount of distributed solar in the USA (defined in interconnection permitting as under 20MW) has continued to increase with over 71MW installed in California this year alone. States such as Colorado with concerns over utility-scale, and low demand have welcomed distributed due to its lower risk profile and customer-driven format. With larger numbers of commercial customers such as Ikea, WalMart, universities and factories now seeing solar as cost effective through net metering and lower installation costs, it is likely there will be an increase in the attention and care paid to distributed plants.

At present, the operations and maintenance market at utility-scale is dominated by vertically integrated companies providing O &M services to larger scale plants. At the smaller end of utility scale plants, utilities and plant owners are choosing to do a lot of service in-house whilst relying on the warranties and OEMs for the more complex maintenance.

However, in the smaller states with fewer utility-scale plants there are also new opportunities and challenges for maintenance provisioning. In Colorado and Vermont, snowfall requires extra attention. Even though it does block performance, it also reflects light onto panels on clear sunny days. However, if undertaking maintenance on snowy panels it is important to wipe the snow away with a cloth or soft brush to avoid scratching. Care should also be taken with grit in the snow. These can damage the performance of panels and lead to weaknesses. Whilst snow climates have different yield expectations, an accepted rule is that a customer should only tolerate 1% or lower downtime in a year.

What is clear is that utility-scale solar will be shrinking in size as it is easier to manage and more bankable. With an industry convergence on 5-50MW systems, O&M companies may be able to share their best practice and increase awareness.

It's not just in preventative or routine maintenance that opportunities could increase. For developers or owners with multiple small plants, a monitoring system capable of communicating in-depth information on performance from multiple plants is also important in helping developers, owners and customers to better coordinate their O&M and make it more cost effective. within a few years customers with similar plants in a local area could be sharing their maintenance and operations costs, keeping their plants optimized at the lowest possible cost.

To achieve and capitalise on these opportunities O&M companies need to not only demonstrate their value but also provide the breakdown of their costs. O&M for distributed and utility-scale solar is a key part of PV Insider's Utility-Scale PV Plant Optimization Conference 2013 (25-26 September, San Jose, USA). Featuring experts from Sandia National Laboratories, Solichamba and SunEdison, the event will break down the cost-effectiveness of Maintenance and monitoring systems by plant scale, to ensure that plants exceed expectations whilst keeping operating costs low.

For more information, visit: www.pv-insider.com/usaoptimization

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