There has been a lot of industry discussion recently about how operation and maintenance and asset management can help improve a system’s financials. These terms are often used interchangeably but have very different roles. PV asset management refers to the financial and administrative activities to translate energy production into revenue—mostly office work. O&M is the physical, labor-intensive, technical work in the field to ensure a system’s uptime. Part of what is contributing to the blurring of the lines of these separate activities is the advent of module-level power electronics (MLPEs). With the ability to remotely monitor and troubleshoot at the module level, MLPEs are helping to transition some O&M activities into PV asset management.
MLPEs and preventative and corrective maintenance
Module-level monitoring benefits of MLPEs can be seen in both preventative and corrective maintenance. Preventative maintenance is conducted before any issues are detected to ensure the system is operating at its highest performance and limiting downtime. Corrective maintenance is conducted after an issue has been discovered and includes repair. MLPEs are shifting some corrective maintenance tasks into preventative maintenance and even eliminate some maintenance altogether.
For example, one part of preventative maintenance is an annual site visit to check system health. With string and central inverter systems, each module needs to be individually inspected to ensure proper functioning. This is a costly and a time-consuming procedure, and it can pose safety concerns such as working at heights and with high voltages.
But MLPE systems allow service providers to inspect and maintain systems without visiting the site. Through module-level monitoring, MLPEs send pinpointed alerts and fault detection and allow remote troubleshooting to reduce trips to and time spent at sites. For example, if a module has a failed diode, then an automatic alert will notify the O&M provider. The module can be easily identified, pinpointed to its specific location and the O&M provider can send a screenshot to the module manufacturer for a warranty claim. Then, when the service provider visits the site, he or she is ready to replace the module instead of discovering the issue for the first time.
MLPE advantages in commercial projects and aging systems
The highly detailed resolution that module-level monitoring offers is especially important for commercial systems, which have more panels and require more maintenance than residential systems. Module-level monitoring significantly decreases the resources needed to maintain such large projects. Combining module-level monitoring with other performance monitoring tools, such as fleet management, inter-site and multi-site comparisons, pre-scheduled performance and status reports of multiple sites and executive reporting, allow O&M providers to better guarantee system performance on commercial systems.
MLPEs have similar advantages in aging systems, which require more maintenance, or systems that are geographically spread out and difficult to reach in a timely manner. MLPE features like module-level monitoring, real-time detection, automatic alerts and remote troubleshooting can be leveraged as strategic PV asset management tools to provide post-installation services to these applications. These solutions enable O&M providers to become more effective by front loading many of their activities in the office. This not only helps improve the response time but frequently saves costs for the O&M provider.
In fact, O&M providers can use module-level monitoring and remote troubleshooting to streamline their businesses and create new revenue streams through tailored O&M services.