Talking about Operation & Maintenance in the photovoltaic sector makes us think about the existing photovoltaic park, especially in Italy, and about that type of maintenance work carried out for necessity on plants built without particular attention to aspects such us design, installation and components, with obvious negative repercussions on performance of the plants themselves and on the business plan of those who have invested in photovoltaics. But the O&M obviously isn’t just that.
Preventive maintenance, monitoring, revamping, repowering, video surveillance and component care are routine activities that have the specific purpose of improving the performance of any photovoltaic system and, above all, of limiting extraordinary maintenance and the related costs.
A recent research by Wood Mackenzie gives us an idea of the order of magnitude of these expenses, and the weight they have for those who invest in renewable assets. This research estimates the weight of unexpected repairs around $ 3000/MW/year and expects an increase in investments in annual O&M operations from the current 4.5 billion dollars to a good 9 billion in 2024. These increases are mainly linked to some market factors such as the construction of new plants due to the growing demand for energy from renewable sources globally and in developing countries (+18% in 2019), and the obsolescence of the photovoltaic park existing. For example, the amount of inverters at the end of their life in 2019 is estimated at a total of 21GW, approximately 3.4% of the global market, and 174GW of plants will have inverters older than 10 years by 2024.
In front of figures of this magnitude, it is inevitable that asset managers and those who invest capital in the photovoltaic industry are constantly looking for a solution to minimize management costs. This solution is called digital technology and arises in the use of new generation monitoring, remote control platforms and artificial intelligence.
The use of monitoring and remote control systems in the photovoltaic industry has already allowed great improvements in the rationalization of human intervention. In fact it has decreased the amount of technical personnel necessary for the maintenance of a single MW of power. Indeed, in recent years we have gone from a ratio of 1 technician for 20MW to 1 technician for 40-60MW, however there is still much that digital technology can do. In most cases, in fact, asset managers have noticed that a simple monitoring system, despite being the perfect solution on paper, encounters structural difficulties that call into question its effectiveness. Especially in older systems many components are not sophisticated enough to manage multiple communication protocols, few are able to track in real time what happens with adequate diagnostic tools and even less are able to independently perform periodic assessments, even basic, on plant performance.
How to fill these gaps? Using new generation systems!
The most modern monitoring and remote control solutions, thanks to technological evolution, are able to interconnect with all devices present in the system, control their operation and collect huge amounts of data. In addition, combined with the increasingly intense use of artificial intelligence, they allow owners of renewable assets to manage O&M operations through predictive analysis and machine learning, automatically sharing the flow of information with Enterprise Resource Planning systems (ERP) chosen for global management.
Investing in an end-to-end digital platform for monitoring allows not only a great improvement in process efficiency, but also a decrease of the costs associated with managing the portfolios of photovoltaic systems.