A Guide to Photovoltaic System Management

10/30/2017 |

Smart O&M for solar power

solar panels

These solar panels could use a cleaning and a more proactive maintenance strategy. NREL's new best practices guide covers how to reduce O&M costs while maximizing PV performance. | Photo by NREL

Solar photovoltaic systems have transitioned well beyond small, obscure projects into massive operations in the United States. Investment has grown. Returns are starting to come back on initial investments – in some cases, within just a couple of years.

Often overlooked in influencing the bottom line for PV systems are the day-to-day operation and maintenance costs. O&M costs vary widely depending on the market segment and its unique variables, making the analysis of risk and return by investors that much murkier.

A new best practices guide from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommends tried-and-true strategies for PV system management to reduce O&M costs, improve transparency of PV assets for investors and rating agencies and lower transaction costs.

Checklists in the guide help users take steps to improve their O&M practices. Also featured are key recommendations for PV operations and maintenance. NREL suggests the following considerations for

PV O&M:

  • Make a plan on paper for proactive O&M, rather than reacting to problems on the fly.
  • Benchmark performance indicators to mark real improvement, reduce costs and maximize performance.
  • Develop a strategy and budget to be able to withstand unexpected expenses and reduce downtime, such as a line of credit, reserve account or a fund specifically developed for repair.
  • Consider lifecycle issues during system design and equipment selection, such as ease of operations (including automation), preventive maintenance requirements, reliability and failure rates, and end-of-life issues like component recycling and hazardous material disposal.
  • Take advantage of technological developments applicable to your PV system, such as software for data analytics, remote diagnostics, asset management, remote imaging and module-level power electronics.

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