Podcast Solar O&M Best Practices Guidelines

Welcome to the Solar O&M Insider, the first podcast series dedicated to solar PV operations, maintenance and asset management.  This series is brought to you by Alectris, a global solar asset care innovation firm.  The series is hosted by Glenna Wiseman of Identity3.

12 months of work by the SolarPower Europe solar PV operations and maintenance task force came to fruition at Intersolar Munich with the organization’s unveiling of its new “Solar O&M Best Practices Guidelines.”

The task force effort was a result of “the lack of standardization in O&M service provision, the shortcomings and bad practices found in the field, the lack of awareness and negligence towards incorporating proper O&M services, the untapped opportunity to optimize assets and the impact on investment returns.”

Executives from leading solar industry companies, representing several gigawatts of solar capacity, contributed to the 56-page study, which was coordinated and published by SolarPower Europe. The study is the first of its kind in Europe and is an important step towards establishing an industry-wide standard for utility scale solar.

This episode of the Solar O&M Insider features SolarPower Europe Senior Advisor, Ioannis Thomas Theologitis, who led this initiative within the trade organization and Vassilis Papaeconomou, Managing Director, of Alectris, one of the founding task force executives.

SolarPower Europe’s O&M Best Practices Guidelines features:

  • Development History of SolarPower Europe’s new O&M Best Practices Guidelines
  • Equal Weight Given to Solar PV Maintenance and Operations
  • Path to a Sustainable Solar O&M Market is Standardization
  • O&M Best Practices Defined by Those Working in the Solar PV Field
  • Potential Global Impact of the European Based O&M Guidelines
  • How the new Guidelines Could Impact Everyday Solar O&M Market Activities Now
  • Next Steps for the SolarPower Europe O&M Best Guidelines

Alectris_solarpower_europe'sO&M_best_practices_guidelines_TwitterFull Transcript

Welcome to the Solar O&M Insider, the first podcast series dedicated to Solar PV operations, maintenance, and asset management. This series is brought to you by Alectris, a global solar asset care innovation firm. I’m Glenna Wiseman of Identity3, your host.

Twelve months of work by the SolarPower Europe PV operations and maintenance task force came to fruition at Intersolar Munich with the organization’s unveiling of its new Solar O&M best practices guidelines.

The task force effort was a result of the “lack of standardization in O&M service provision, the shortcomings and bad practices found in the field, the lack of awareness and negligence towards incorporating proper O&M services, the untapped opportunity to optimize assets, and the impact on investment returns.”

Executives from leading solar industry companies representing several gigawatts of solar capacity contributed to the 56-page study, which was coordinated and published by SolarPower Europe. The study is the first of its kind in Europe and is an important step towards establishing an industry-wide standard for utility scale solar.

Our guests on this episode of the Solar O&M Insider guided the process of the guidelines development at SolarPower Europe or participated as a task force member. We welcome SolarPower Europe Senior Adviser, Ioannis Thomas Theologitis, who led this initiative within the trade organization, and Vassilis Papaeconomou, Managing Director of Alectris, one of the founding task force executives.

Welcome to the show, gentlemen.

Ioannis: Thank you for having me, Glenna. It is indeed a pleasure to participate in the Solar O&M Insider.

Vassilis: Thank you, Glenna. Good to hear your voice again, and many thanks to Ioannis for being with us in this podcast series.

Development History of SolarPower Europe’s new O&M Best Practices Guidelines
Glenna: We have an exciting subject to cover in this episode. Ioannis, can you give us some background on how the O&M guidelines initiative got started?

Ioannis: Yes, of course. Well, being an association that represents the interests of foreign industry, we have several times internal discussions on what are the topics of importance and what matters actually require more attention from our side. Of course, the discussions and decisions serve our overall strategic plan and vision we have. Well, among others, of course, among other topics we decided to work on operation and maintenance. Since we know that this part of business is very impactful for the technical and economic lifetime of the PV plans, we are also aware of the trends over the last two years about the consolidation of the industry, about the change of the industry, and when I’m referring to industry I’m referring to the O&M part, where also leading manufacturers were actually trying to acquire companies or to work on O&M service provision.

So we saw that actually there was a lot of evolution in this part of business and we started some discussion with some of our members. At the same time and after we re-branded, we wanted to strengthen our business relevant services to our members, beyond, of course, our lobbying activities. And this is why we decided to launch different task forces, and of course the first one was the operation and maintenance task force.

We did first a scoping workshop with some of our members to identify the points we are going to work. And in March last year we did the kickoff meeting. We tried to recruit more and more companies that could help us towards our objectives. Alectris actually was one of the first ones involved, and we’re happy to have Vassilis active in this group.

Glenna: With the standardization efforts happening in different parts of the globe related to solar PV, what other efforts did the task force draw upon for these guidelines? In other words, were there other documents, other standardization guidelines that were happening that you pulled from other parts of the world in order to inform this process?

Equal Weight Given to Solar PV Maintenance and Operations
Ioannis: Yes, indeed. Of course, during the scoping exercise that we did before the kickoff, we tried to look for such kind of relevant or similar activities worldwide. We were aware already that there were some activities in the U.S. and also some in Germany. All of them were quite different from what we wanted to do, either some of them were more technical or focused on more technical aspects, some others were more focused on local specific matters. What we wanted to bring out there were something that’s up on Europe. So basically, the focus is European-wide. What we also wanted to bring forward was something that is closer or more focused on operations aspects.

So we have seen a lot of different documents or more documents anyway, to be more precise, on the maintenance part, but the operations was somehow neglected, if I may use this word. So we wanted to work on it more closely and to work on subjects that are reporting, monitoring, subjects that actually reflect how to manage your system or claims management aspects, communication requirements among the different stakeholders. So all this kind of topics that are, let’s say, non-technical topics, this is again, of course, an industry-led initiative, which is another unique value proposition of this task force and, of course, of the first version that we just launched. And additionally the scope is, as I said, European-wide. We focus on, let’s say, more utility-scale subjects.

Vassilis: Adding to what Ioannis just said, what we found pretty interesting is the strategical direction that SolarPower Europe decided to take in this task force and that’s exactly what about Ioannis mentioned. This document and this effort in general. is not focused only on the purely field activities or maintenance activities, which is the most common thing we see in other regions of the world. And this actually shows a sort of an underestimation of the operations part of the O&M. What SolarPower did very differently, and this is very highly appreciated, and think this has a great value, is without neglecting the maintenance part, to focus on the operations part as well, which is in our opinion one of the major things that’s to drive the cost down, and everything that is needed to make it a sustainable industry.

So in this document, as Ioannis already mentioned, there is a clear focus on the operations. Actually, the document is divided in two parts, one is the maintenance part and the other one is the operations part, and there is equal, let’s say, weight in the document, and this is a thing makes a document even more valuable.

Alectris Motivation to Participate in the SolarPower Europe Task Force
Glenna: You’ve seen this whole process developing, right, Vassilis, because you were involved from the beginning? Tell us a little bit about your motivation to get involved with the task force originally.

Vassilis: Well, basically, you know that Alectris is acting in multiple markets. One of them is the United States, for example, where we’ve seen similar initiatives. And we were not seeing similar initiatives until a year ago at least in Europe, and that was a pity because Europe is one of the most mature markets, the oldest markets where in this market has a lot of experience.

So one and a half years ago, I was quite surprised that there was nothing similar in Europe, and then all of a sudden we heard about this task force. We’re invited to that. We were obviously pretty happy because we believe there’s a lot to define in the operations and maintenance part of the market. And I think this has evolved in a very nice way because it shows that SolarPower Europe is a leader in that direction, differentiating from the standard maintenance documents and growing much more in depth and trying to explain and standardize the operations part as well.

Path to a Sustainable Solar O&M Market is Standardization
Glenna: We understand that you did a preview of the guidelines, Vassilis, in your talk last week in terms of our recording time at Intersolar Munich, called “Redefining Solar O&M: How will Solar O&M look in the future.” Now, I know this is a really big question, but maybe you could give us a synopsis of how you see solar O&M in the future and how could these best practices as articulated in these new guidelines shape the industry?

Vassilis: Well, indeed it’s a huge discussion how solar is going to look like in the future. There are several points I mentioned and, obviously no, for the economy of time it makes no sense to discuss about our presentation. What I really wanted to focus upon and underline in our discussion today is that we see a lot of change in the market, a lot of consolidation, a global spread, geographically speaking. And I think the path to a sustainable market is standardization. Standardization, it’s an easy word, but it’s much more difficult to implement. And a very good first step is actually the document that SolarPower Europe has prepared. And this is about to start with defining some terms, which is, you know, the opposite of minimum I would say, and I’ll put the parenthesis here, (even the terms of operation and maintenance, asset management, and similar are not clearly defined in our industry).

So we have to start from the basics, defining the terms. What is operations? What is maintenance? What does this include? And basically, how do we perceive these best practices in these areas? I think this is a very good first step towards standardization. I wouldn’t dare say that with one single effort, with one single document, we have managed to standardize the whole industry, but it’s a very good first step, and we do hope, and I’m pretty sure actually, that the next steps are going to follow soon from SolarPower Europe.

Glenna: Well, I think the whole idea of the definitions, that there is even a standardization in the language and what are the definitions of each of those aspects of the overall scope of O&M and asset management is really partly what the industry is grappling with globally. Even if you look at the whole idea of solar monitoring versus solar analytics, you’ve got all kinds of different perceptions.

Ioannis, does the document try to help the industry define some of these important key ideas and concepts?

Ioannis: Yes, indeed. Vassilis mentioned already that we touched upon basic but also very important matters starting from definitions. All towards the direction of the standardization, which is something that we all acknowledge that is important. For cost reduction purposes, competitiveness, the whole transparency, and of course ultimately to increase the confidence from the investors, owners, etc. So it is something important.

Of course, this is not the standard, what is published now, it’s far from it, but it’s a collection of best practices or minimum requirements and best practices together, which to my view, and I think to the view of the group, is the core content for standard, for something that we can call as a standard.

O&M Best Practices Defined by Those Working in the Solar PV Field
I will highlight again, the fact that this comes from the industry, which is again very important. This is a standard or best practices that are defined by the industry itself, by the people that work on the field, and they know in daily basis what is happening, what is real and what is not. So it’s not something that has been drafted only by, let’s say, kind of marginally relevant stakeholders or lawyers or etc. And this is important I think to highlight it. We hope to have an impact. This is what we want. We didn’t draft this document just to have it as a good reference and we have already foreseen the next steps on how to make it more impactful for our industry.

Potential Global Impact of the European Based O&M Guidelines
Glenna: And I think many of those task force members are international, global firms like Alectris, and so you’ve got the opportunity to have those guidelines have an impact in other parts of the world. I’m thinking particularly in the emerging markets, don’t you think, Vassilis?

Vassilis: Absolutely. And just to underline and put some emphasis on what Ioannis said, I think the task members were about 25 different companies, and it was not just O&M contractors. So that the document has been created by a group of companies from different perspectives of the market and, as Ioannis correctly stated, all these companies are very relevant in the market. So it’s not an academic document. And one thing I wanted to add to that, for the avoidance of doubt, is we’re not talking about a document of definitions. So the purpose of the document is not just to define the terms, but this is the starting point.

Because we have realized that when people are talking about O&M or asset management, for example, in different regions, they mean completely different things. So the basic is to define what we’re talking about and then obviously the document goes much more in depth.

And to answer your question, Glenna, in emerging solar markets, this is even more relevant because we’ve seen the discrepancies of terms and understanding about the O&M in mature or already close to mature markets, Europe, U.S., and others. Just think about the differences of perception of O&M in emerging markets where there is no track record about solar, there is no local know-how.

So I do believe that with this initiative of SolarPower Europe, this document and SolarPower Europe in general can play a lead role globally and show the way forward. I actually firmly believe that. And since we are also as a company active in such emerging markets, I’m very much convinced this is going to be a great help. So we consider this to be a fantastic first step, a great initiative from SolarPower Europe, and there’s much more to come. I’m convinced about that.

How the new Guidelines Could Impact Everyday Solar O&M Market Activities Now
Glenna: Let’s highlight, Vassilis, a couple of challenges that you see in the market now that are being addressed by the guidelines to give people a real sense of how they could really activate these guidelines now to help in everyday business issues.

Vassilis: Well, first of all, just to put it in simple words. We are active in the market and we get so many times the question, “How much does O&M cost?” And people, it’s very hard to explain to people that there’s no clear answer to that because we do not know what O&M means in their minds and what we describe as O&M. So, I think this is a first good upside, let’s say, of the document, so that it will help the stakeholder of the market to start talking about the same thing. As a second upside, I would say, is there are investors, especially in emerging markets, but also in Europe, I must say, that they have no concrete idea what they need to ask from their O&M providers. So this gives a guideline, this gives some basic instructions, if I may use these words, of what we consider to be a high-end, let’s say, O&M scope of work and, of course, by no means does that mean that this is restrictive to anyone, it just gives a guidance.

But at least we ensure that we have a common ground of discussion and we have a basis to start from. So even in Europe where the market is considered to be very mature, it’s actually one of the oldest markets globally, if not the oldest, there are already here a lot of discrepancies, not just about the terms, but about the expectations from O&M contractors and what O&M contractors should actually contain. So this document should provide some clarity, some standardization so the market as a whole would start talking on the same basis and using the same terms and hence also enhance transparency and clarity between all the stakeholders.

OM_final_160628_Page_01Next Steps for the SolarPower Europe O&M Best Guidelines 
Glenna: Okay, excellent. Okay, so speaking of O&M in the future, Ioannis, what improvements or changes in solar O&M do you envision will be the result of these guidelines? What’s a little bit of a vision of the way forward?

Ioannis: Yes. Well, definitely the initiative will continue in terms of working on the task force and, of course, improving our current work. And of course, when you receive such a positive feedback also by Vassilis and other members, you have to continue. This industry is changing a lot. It will continue to change, so there is no point on stopping here, especially when you have high objectives as we do. Now, more concretely, I think the most important step as a next step is to communicate what we have done already. This will be done and is already, I mean, we already activated a few channels of communication, because we want this work to be known, to be read, and of course to receive feedback on what we have written. We launched this last week at Intersolar, and over the last week I have received some feedback already.

So this will be a continuous process to disseminate it and, of course, to improve it by incorporating the comments from externals or other experts. The task force members will be the ones, of course, that will decide how to improve effort on this document. Regarding content, the content I think we are going to extend the scope. There are different ideas, there are some ideas on working more in depth in several chapters. I don’t think that I should spend much time referring to what kind of details we should include. There are ideas basically to work maybe on health and safety matters or improve some chapters, like the monitoring part, etc. Another option that we have is probably to use this document as an input for creating or, let’s say, supporting the creation of a template for contracts.

So there are all these ideas are on the table at this moment. We are going to have a follow up with the task force to really structure and work on the plan for the coming months to come. I’m really excited on the future of this. There are definitely many, many, things to do. I think the challenge is not on where we should go or actually on what we should work on, but it’s to filter out what is important, let’s say, short term, medium term, and then long term. But it is an initiative that will continue and definitely evolve. So people and the experts in the industry will hear more from us.

Vassilis: Well, I think, if I may add my couple of sentences here. I think, as I mentioned before, this has been a great piece of work, of a group work actually, directed or managed primarily by SolarPower Europe, but a lot of members actively contributed to that. So, as a first step, I think, this is really great. The second step, as Ioannis has already mentioned, is dissemination of this, so letting people know that there is something like that already published, and adoption. And obviously, that would lead hopefully to a lot of feedback because nothing is done perfectly from this first step.

And ultimately, if I may state my own opinion there, and hopefully Ioannis would agree, in the longer term or medium term, if that would become gradually standards, primarily in Europe, but hopefully also globally speaking, that would be, I think, the ultimate success. But there is a long way to get there, but a great first step has been done, and a thing as SolarPower Europe is correctly doing right now, we have to focus on dissemination, showing that there is an effort already into that direction. Ask for other stakeholders to engage into that process, collect the feedback, and mature the document even further.

Ioannis: Yes, thank you, Vassilis. Just to follow up on your comment, yes, you are very right. Actually, I forgot to mention as an ultimate objective, of course, will be to create something like a certification, where we’re seeing which form. But this will be, of course, the most impactful result that this task force can bring forward. But to achieve all these nice things and all these nice objectives, you should increase your outreach. And I think that’s why we classify this as a first step, and our efforts will be continued towards that direction.

Glenna: Excellent. Well, I think that leads nicely to Ioannis, if you could tell our listeners how they can access a copy of the SolarPower Europe Solar O&M guidelines or contact you.

Ioannis: Yes, certainly. Of course, they can contact me. They can find my details on the website on SolarPower Europe. You can download actually the document from our website, www.solarpowereurope.org. There you can download the report and the attached annual maintenance plan that we have. So this completes basically the first version of our O&M best practice guidelines. Of course, if there are more questions, you can come back to me at any point.

Glenna: Excellent. Vassilis, thank you for joining us today. Thank you, Ioannis, for joining us today. I want say a special thank you to Vassilis and his vision around this podcast series and for supporting this insider’s view of the Solar PV O&M Industry. I’m Glenna Wiseman, your host.

The Solar O&M Insider Podcast Series is brought to you by Alectris at alectris.com.