Solar O&M: What solar contractors need to know!!!

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Operations and maintenance, commonly called “O&M”, has grown from a simple service offered by engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) companies for systems they built, to a dedicated market segment comprised of independent service providers and robust branches of solar contracting companies. The maturation of the solar industry has also led to increased O&M specialization to address the more complex demands of both the market and the grid. Regardless of whether solar contractors engage directly in O&M, it is important to understand — particularly given the long lifespan of solar systems and the ongoing need to ensure they generate as much power as possible. In this article, we explore the following:

  • What solar O&M involves
  • Considerations for solar contractors regarding offering O&M services
  • Working with other companies specializing in this space and the criteria for evaluating potential solar O&M partners

What is O&M?

Broadly speaking, O&M is a set of activities or programs that deals with the practices, tasks, and labor that help systems run properly and efficiently. O&M includes a variety of basic functions such as: rapid problem identification and resolution, minimizing downtime due to faults, and comprehensive reporting and transparency.

What is solar operations and maintenance?

As you may have guessed, solar O&M is this same set of activities, but applied specifically to solar PV installations to help optimize how they produce energy. There are several different aspects of solar O&M:

  • Preventative maintenance: The routine inspection and servicing of equipment to avoid breakdowns and needless production losses
  • Corrective maintenance: Repairs after a breakdown occurs to minimize unplanned downtime
  • Condition-based maintenance: Using real-time data to predict breakdowns and prioritize activities and resources; offered by an increasing number of third-party integrators and turnkey providers

Each of these approaches employs a number of services, which can include: performance monitoring and diagnostics, energy forecasting, warranty administration, and preventative maintenance like module cleaning and vegetation control. It can also involve integration with a third party for system commissioning, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) upgrades, parts replacement, and re-roofing support.


What does solar O&M entail?

At the heart of solar O&M are two critical pillars: maintenance and risk management. The maintenance aspect focuses on the regular upkeep and repair of system components to ensure they operate at peak efficiency, while the risk management aspect zeroes in on proactive measures to identify, mitigate, and manage potential hazards and challenges. Together, these elements work hand in hand to ensure the longevity, reliability, and efficiency of solar energy systems, setting the stage for a deeper dive into each of their specifics.

The maintenance aspect

Maintenance includes both scheduled and unscheduled elements. While scheduled services are outlined by equipment manufacturers’ product manuals, unscheduled maintenance involves fixing problems once they occur (fairly self-explanatory). Scheduled maintenance lowers the frequency and cost of unscheduled work, ideally achieving a system that operates properly due to constant monitoring and clear recovery systems.

The risk management aspect

Risk management, another side of O&M services offered by some industry players, is the ability to identify what can go wrong and predict probability and consequences. It enables PV owners and asset managers to effectively plan for unscheduled maintenance and mitigate issues. Risk management continues to develop as a distinct field, with a number of companies offering software and services to help ensure solar production.

Creating a foundation for lower-maintenance O&M

When a PV system is designed and built with the highest quality in mind, using complete software solutions, there can be fewer costs and less wasted time associated with O&M. As an example, Aurora Solar’s Plan Sets Service not only enhances the speed and quality of post-sales processes but also provides peace of mind to design and engineering teams. It simplifies and standardizes the site data collection workflow, consolidating all the required information into a user-friendly intake form and automatically populating numerous fields within the form. It all takes place within Aurora’s sales and design tool, and includes features like AHJ identification. Once you’ve gathered the necessary site details, you can directly request a solar permitting plan set package from within the platform, including engineering stamps. The Aurora team reviews the site information, ensures compliance with all AHJ requirements, and delivers a permit-ready plan set package within 24 hours.

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