Operations and maintenance (O&M) of solar power plants are becoming increasingly important in the global photovoltaic (PV) market. While an increasing number of new builds show industry growth, optimizing operations and maintenance is a cost-effective way to improve performance for plants already in use. In fact, many solar power companies are developing more intelligent strategies and practices for O&M. This may include hiring a professional service provider in some cases.
Whether getting outside help or not, there are a couple of factors to consider when looking for ways to improve operation and maintenance of solar power plants:
Optimizations for either of these considerations can result in improved, more reliable performance. According to a report from PV insider, a 1 percent increase in direct sun exposure can result in $1 million extra in a year’s revenue. With those kinds of numbers, it might be a good idea to explore how to improve a plant’s function, which can be achieved through more strategic O&M.
The size of a solar power plant has a great effect on O&M optimization techniques. For large, compact PV projects, having an in-house operations and maintenance team makes sense. However, if the project is smaller but more spread out, outsourcing to a contracted third-party in the specific regions of the plants may be more efficient.
Additionally, size impacts how you approach power plant operation and maintenance. If the plant is small, the entire project may be tested and adjusted once a year to maximize performance. On the other hand, a system check on a large project may take days to complete, which can result in greater downtime. For this reason, different sections can be checked at different times so improvements can gradually be made and tested against the plant’s overall performance.
When a solar plant is located in a desert area, as they often are, the trackers get more sun exposure, but also have to deal with the elements. Blowing sand collects on tracking devices and can interfere with energy production. This means the sand needs to be washed away frequently, but water is not always readily available in these dry areas. Coming up with an efficient O&M process for minimizing environmental factors is critical to a project’s performance. Solutions could include anything from having a dedicated team on-site to clear sand with vacuums as it builds or using self-calibrating robots that wash away sand with minimal water waste.
Every solar power project is different and therefore will require different solutions for maximum energy collection. Even a plant perfectly designed and installed to precise specifications can be improved once up and running. An O&M strategy has become critical to the long life of a project and is a growing industry worldwide.