There are a variety of reasons why preventative maintenance is a vital aspect of the sustainability and health of PV solar systems. While solar is often marketed as a sustainable and resilient power generation tool, it does not go unscathed by external factors such as time, weather or equipment failures. For this reason, an effective preventative maintenance plan is required for the longevity and health of your system. Preventative maintenance differs from reactive or corrective maintenance as it gets owners ahead of repairs, keeps the system performing at as-built capacity and prevents larger, more damaging issues.
When to schedule preventative maintenance
There is no, one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as all PV systems have many factors influencing this. However, once a site is completed, commissioned and deemed operable a maintenance plan should be put into place to monitor the site’s pain points and production numbers.
Generally speaking, preventive maintenance should be performed annually for the first five years, with two visits in Year 1. This is vital to assessing a system’s production and making the necessary changes for peak performance.
When choosing the time of year for preventative maintenance visits, an essential factor to consider is solar irradiance and how that relates to peak production. Solar irradiance is the sun’s intensity or output measured on earth over a certain area. For many areas, high irradiance will be experienced in the summer months, more specifically in mid-July. Therefore, scheduling your PM visit in springtime to check the health of your system is a productive strategy. This will give time to make the needed adjustments before peak irradiance months.
“An effective PM requires action not just reporting. It requires doing the work,” said Wayne Williford, VP of operations at Day Electric. Remote monitoring can only show you so much. Get out, visit the site and put a plan in place that is tailored to that site.
After creating an effective plan in Year 1, this can be carried out for the first 5 years. At that point, you often see these external factors that will become pain points in the decades to come. A preventative maintenance schedule will be dependent on the site’s location, environment, design type, equipment type and initial build and product quality.
What factors influence preventative maintenance measures?
One of the major factors that influence preventative maintenance is location, especially as it relates to the environment and weather. A site located in the desert climate of Arizona will need drastically different measures taken than a coastal site in California.
If your site is subject to any of the following conditions, additional PM measures may need to be taken:
- Extreme heat
- Salt-coastal environment
- Exhaust from buildings
- Unruly vegetation
A local and experienced O&M provider will be aware of the environmental factors that will influence a site’s health, safety and production and make recommendations on an appropriate PM schedule. It is common for commercial PV solar sites experiencing safety or production issues to need two or more visits a year, one to address production, electrical and structural factors and another to address degradation caused by environmental factors.
The design type of a commercial solar system will influence the preventative maintenance schedule as well. For example, trackers require a more tedious maintenance schedule than a fixed-tilt site. Location (roof-top or ground), racking type, inverter type and overall design of the system will need to be addressed in scheduling a PM schedule.
PV Solar systems all have a core set of components that are needed for energy production and structural stability. These core components consist of modules, inverters, wiring, DC/AC disconnects, racking and mounting. The type, brand and quality of these components often determine the frequency of maintenance needed in the future.
Initial build quality
The overall goal of an effective preventative maintenance plan is to keep a system performing at “as-built” production capacity This is achievable, despite normal degradation, with an effective and aggressive PM plan. However, this goal is sometimes unachievable based on the initial design and product quality. Some sites experience extreme production and safety concerns from the get-go due to construction standards, equipment quality and failure, and/or the lack of improper or unbiased commissioning.
An O&M provider will consider these factors when recommending preventative and corrective maintenance on a site.
Scheduling preventative maintenance may seem like an aggressive strategy, but when executed properly, it can extend the life and quality of a system, and is non-negotiable for safety and peace-of-mind. An effective PM schedule can turn a site that is a burden for owners and asset managers into what it is intended to be: a powerful and sustainable power generation system.
Day Electric is a full-service solar O&M service provider with complete project design, procurement, commissioning, and construction management capabilities. The company also provides professional operations and maintenance services for solar power plants as well as small businesses and residences. With completed projects spanning government, education, commercial, and municipal customers. The Day Electric portfolio of projects makes the company one of the top solar PV service firms. For more information about professional O&M services for your PV system, contact Day Electric by phone at (434) 333-0355 or online at www.dayelectricusa.com.
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