Challenges for Operations and Maintenance in the PV Industry

July 31, 2017- As mentioned in an earlier post, the importance of operations and maintenance (O&M) of solar power plants is growing throughout the global market, particularly in Europe. One major reason for this growth is that operators of these systems are faced with increasing challenges and have to come up with new solutions to combat them. Creating an operations and maintenance team is one such solution.

Some of the most common challenges these teams face are sand, microclimates, and crime. While each of these factors may not affect every solar power plant, understanding what they are and their impact on productivity can help companies prevent possible problems and maintain maximum efficiency.

Sand

The climate in the location of a solar plant can impact efficiency. Because trackers are often situated in desert climates, sand and dust can cover the modules. In fact, many companies are looking to implement frameless technologies in their systems, as edges often act like a sand trap and collect excessive dust. If sand is not cleared regularly, it can build up and potentially shut down operation for a period of time. Any downtime is essentially money lost for a plant, as it’s critical to collect as much solar energy as possible every day.

While some firms have hired teams to regularly vacuum the panels, many are requiring the assistance of water to rinse sand away. This poses an additional challenge, as these climates often are dry and the cost to ship water in the large amounts necessary can be extremely expensive.

Microclimates

While having solar plants in dusty climates is a challenge by itself, different microclimates within these areas can cause additional problems.

In certain regions of these dusty climates, humidity comes into play. If an area experiences low-lying humidity, either near coasts, agricultural areas or regions that see light rain, the dust can turn into mud. This is more difficult to clean and creates darker shade spots on the panels, which interferes with sun collection.

Crime

Since solar power plants are often located in isolated areas, crime can be a big challenge for tracking systems. In newer markets, theft has been a problem for many companies and plants are starting to require extra security. Some have employed guards to prevent crime, hiring locally to support the nearby neighborhoods and encourage community buy-in of the plant.

As more O&M teams are created to help minimize the impact of these challenges, intelligent strategies and integrated solutions become more critical to maximum efficiency.