Thoughts on Solar


An ounce of prevention

January 17, 2013; Featured in Thoughts on Solar


Every 3,000 miles. When I was teaching my children how to drive I also taught them that every 3,000 miles they should get an oil change and maintenance checkup before something goes wrong. I taught them to not ignore the car service light when it goes on and to remember to fill up the gas tank before it gets too low. But despite my best efforts, I occasionally found myself jumping into my car to go get them after their car had broken down. 

“An ounce of prevention” is how the phrase begins. I am not sure that many people know the second half of that famous quote, but it goes without saying that not everyone has the foresight to heed such warnings. And sometimes, even when you have your ounce of prevention you find out too late you really need a ton.

This is true in all walks of life and the solar industry as well.

Proactive maintenance checkups can pump up the energy on a solar project and help deliver more revenues to the project owners and investors. Project developers, however, traditionally have been reluctant to incur the additional cost of a proactive ongoing operations and maintenance strategy. The lack of consistency in operations and maintenance procedures as well as the results generated for solar projects hasn’t helped.

For an O&M program to be successful, it needs to be proactive not just reactive. It also must be tailored to fit the specific project and therefore requires a comprehensive intrinsic audit at the outset. For several project developers, the audit is an important tool that can help identify project risks.

During the audit, all mechanical and electrical components throughout a solar power plant will be reviewed as well as the system’s historical performance data and equipment degradation rates. This information is evaluated against current performance readings. The audit’s findings allow project developers to make critical changes before something wrong happens and also highlights areas that may need special attention.

But even after the initial risk audit O&M needs to be on an ongoing part of the solar project throughout its lifespan. The risks for solar projects evolve over time, reflecting ongoing degradation of solar energy output from the equipment. Seemingly simple things like solar panel cleaning can become critically important in locations that are prone to built up soiling. Dust and debris can accumulate quickly on the panels and reduce energy output by as much as 25 percent.

A well maintained solar installation can perform 10 percent to 30 percent better than an installation not maintained. Proof that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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