Most project developers ignore the importance of O&M in a solar power plant, mainly because of the common perception is that since solar power plants do not have any major moving plants, they will work without any major maintenance for 20-25 years. Compared to many other power generating technologies, PV plants have minimal maintenance and service requirements. However, a continuous O&M program is essential to optimize energy yield and maximize the lifetime and viability of the entire plant and its individual components.

Like in any other power plant, a PV power plant requires the following types of maintenance:

  • Preventive Maintenance-

This includes routine inspection and servicing of equipment which more or less is a scheduled activity

  • Corrective Maintenance-

This includes repair of broken down equipment

  • Predictive Maintenance-

This uses real-time and manually acquired data to prioritize and optimize maintenance and resource

Now, who does these maintenance activities?

As far as solar power projects are concerned, most often, supervisors with an electrical and electronics engineering background are deployed on-site to maintain the plant. They are allocated local laborers to do the physically exhaustive tasks like cleaning the panels, removing vegetation around the panels, limiting animal infestation on the components, etc. On the other hand, the technical support for the O&M activities is provided by the supervisors.

How do you ensure that the O&M personnel are well-qualified?

There are metrics and guidelines that can help you identify the robustness and effectiveness of the current O&M personnel. You can also evaluate the O&M contract and the reports submitted by the O&M contractor to evaluate his team.

  • Experience of the O&M Personnel

Prior experience of the O&M team with PV power plants in the particular country, region, and grid environment and/or with PV power plants equipped with certain technology or size can play an important role in the quality of work they can deliver. Make sure that the majority of the O&M team come with prior experience in handling solar power plants of similar configurations.

  • Performance Guaranteed by the O&M Contractor :

Check the O&M contract for the performance guaranteed by the O&M contractor and validate its achievement for the solar power plant for the previous years.

  • Warranty Management

The O&M personnel should have a very clear understanding of the warranty terms from the suppliers.  They also need to know the type of defects or problems that are covered under warranty, the duration of the warranty and also the key personnel from the supplier with whom warranty claims can be taken up and enforced in a timely manner.

  • Backlog of maintenance issues:

Check with the O&M contractor on the backlog, response and resolution time  for solving issues in the power plant

  • Safety Standards met:

Again, checking with the O&M contractor on the number of the safety-related issues that has occurred at the plant due to non-compliance of standards can help form an idea of the discipline with which the personnel approaches the maintenance activities

  • Inventory control:

An organized and accurate accounting of spare parts can be an important element in controlling costs. The O&M personnel should know very clearly the list of the spare parts available, their quantity at the site warehouse and the lead times for delivery of spare parts from the suppliers.

  • Absentee rate in the O&M team:

This metric is usually overlooked when it comes to evaluating the quality of the O&M personnel. But we feel that a high absentee rate signifies a low morale among the employees and this is a good indicator of the quality of work they can deliver.

  • Reporting to the Developer and Documentation Activities:

Ensure that the O&M Contractor has complied with reporting requirements and reporting timelines. Delivery of reports per the agreed upon timeline is an important indicator for reliability and process adherence within the O&M Contractor and his team.

While evaluating a solar power plant (for investment or purchase), ensure that you have evaluated it for O&M on the above parameters.

You might want to check these questions on Solar Power Plant Evaluation- Plant Performance

  • What is the average CUF (Capacity Utilisation Factor) of the power plant?-Here
  • What are the performance guarantees provided by the installer?-Here
  • What is the generation data from the power plant? Is it according to the industry standards?-Here
  • What have been the cleaning practices for the panels over the years?-Here
  • What are the O&M practices followed?-Here
  • What are the innovations employed in the power plant? How can they impact your  financial returns?-Here
  • Is there scope for expansion of the power plant, in terms of scale?-Here
  • What were the key problems the power plant had faced and what were the causes for these?-Here