The ever-changing weather conditions that solar modules are exposed to can put materials and components under considerable strain. Regular testing and maintenance for modules and systems is crucial in order to guarantee and optimize the profitability of plants. As the number of large-scale PV power plants increases, the demand for efficient and cost-effective solutions for operation and maintenance has also grown, giving rise to a dynamic market for services specifically in this area. For this reason, Intersolar Europe, the world’s leading exhibition for the solar industry and its partners, and the accompanying Intersolar Europe Conference are taking an in-depth look this year at the topic of operation and maintenance (O&M), as well as recent developments, opportunities and challenges in this field.
According to a study published by GTM Research and SoliChamba Consulting, the global market for operation and maintenance grew to a total volume of 182 gigawatts (GW) in 2016 – 54% more than in the previous year. This means that more than half of the O&M market has emerged in the last two years alone. Thanks to growth driven mainly by China, Japan, India and the US, the market volume is expected to almost treble to over 501 GW by 2021. The trend towards large O&M portfolios is experiencing particularly strong growth in the USA and India, as these countries also have a particularly high number of large-scale PV power plants. According to a study by IHS Markit, the North American market alone will reach a volume of over 1 billion US dollars by 2020.
In addition to inspecting a plant’s usability, the operation and maintenance of PV plants also includes the optimization of plant profitability, repair work, the implementation of technical innovations, the reduction of failures and the improvement of certain processes. Repowering is another tool in the O&M armoury which helps to optimize PV plants’ performance after a certain amount of running time by restoring the original nominal power and offsetting any loss of earnings. It entails a thorough inspection of the plants, followed by retrofitting or exchange of solar modules. To perform maintenance, service providers use high-tech control rooms for remote controlling and observation, which are equipped with state-of-the-art control, maintenance and forecasting systems and utilize drones and robots.
The growing operation and maintenance business sector
At this year’s Intersolar Europe and the accompanying Intersolar Conference, the topic of O&M for PV power plants in the spotlight. The “PV Power Plants: Operation & Maintenance Business” session is devoted to the growing operation and maintenance business, with a particular focus on service providers and the great importance of their services. Operation and maintenance centers carry out tasks such as performance monitoring, detection and diagnosis of problems, organizing maintenance work on site, and helping to optimize plant profitability using remote monitoring. Contract management, enforcing warranty claims, or guaranteeing compliance with statutory requirements also belong to a service provider’s remit. At the exhibition, numerous prestigious exhibitors including SMA Solar Technology AG and BayWa r.e. Operation Services GmbH will be presenting their products and solutions for the operation and maintenance of PV installations at their booths.
Increasing automation: Use of drones and robotics in O&M
The use of drones and robots offers considerable advantages, particularly when time is of the essence, for example in the thermal diagnostics for ground and roof areas. They can also significantly reduce the workload when cleaning solar cells, and contribute to boosting power generation. For this reason, they should be brought into consideration even for small PV installations. Nonetheless, using these innovative technologies requires profound knowledge and extensive practice. The “PV Power Plants: The Versatility and Impact of Drones & Robots” session at the Intersolar Europe Conference addresses the diverse applications for drones and robots when performing inspections and maintenance on PV power plants. The session will outline the advantages and restrictions of increasing automation, and indicate potential applications for the future.
The topic will also be taken up at the Innovation and Application Forum (hall A4, booth A4.530). The presentation series by the German Solar Energy Society (DGS) titled “Maintenance and Operation of PV Plants” reveals how O&M guarantees electrical safety and enables the maximum yields to be attained. Small PV installations also play a key role in this.
Intersolar Europe 2017 will take place from 31 May– 2 June, 2017 at Messe München.