If time is money, when it comes to solar parks, downtime is most definitely lost money. A typical 5MWp site, installed in 2013, could lose as much as £75k if the whole site was down for just one high generating month.
Following the latest rounds of subsidy cuts for solar, and as operators consider the advent of ‘subsidy-free’ solar parks, optimising yield from solar parks has become more important than ever.
One way that operators have been boosting yields recently is to shave installation costs. For example, the developers of the 31,000 panel, 10MW Clayhill solar farm, completed in 2017, claim to have reduce costs by a third by using more efficient components and minimising construction costs. This approach, as well as co-locating the array with battery storage and sharing a grid connection with another site, enabled the economic viability of the project despite the lack of subsidies.
For sites that are up and running, maximising yield is about ensuring that the array is generating as much power as possible at all times, while minimising the cost of maintenance.
Remote monitoring has become a powerful tool in helping operators to optimise output. The Powersun O&M team uses the Meteocontrol VCOM virtual control room to monitor the PV arrays that we manage.
VCOM provides us with a cockpit overview of each site, with the ability to display key performance indicators as well as drill down to see faults on individual inverter strings. We can provide graphical displays of operating status, and compare target and actual values for yield, and even create reports for investors.
The key to minimising downtime is preventative maintenance, as well as having the ability to find and fix faults quickly when they do occur. One of the most useful features of remote monitoring is the ability to set up alarms that trigger when anomalies are detected. When an alarm occurs we can open a ticket to take whatever action is necessary, whether that’s to investigate the fault further or dispatch a maintenance engineer to the site.
With the growth of solar in the UK over the past few years, there has been a corresponding rise in solar-related crime as opportunistic thieves look to profit by removing valuable plant from solar parks and rooftops.
A comprehensive O&M programme should look to assess and maintain security of the solar site and make recommendations for improvements where necessary. While installing full perimeter fencing is an expensive solution, the use of CCTV and alarms can provide far more cost-effective deterrents.
The planning process for any project is subject to conditions around the visual appearance of the site and impact on the environment. Solar farms are nature-friendly, with virtually no noise and no waste from the day-to-day operation. Operators have an obligation to keep the site in a way that maintains its green credentials. Land management is a valuable activity that O&M contractors can perform as part of a holistic approach to site maintenance.
Powersun manages a portfolio of solar parks between 0.5 and 2MW, as well as roof systems for farmers and commercial sites from 30kW to 200kW. We can scope all the services above within our O&M contracts. One of our key differences is that we understand the ‘energy equation’, which enables us to provide advice around alternative commercial options, such as the use of private wire agreements direct to energy consumers, combining energy storage with solar, gas generation and leases for landowners.