O&M Evolves to Serve Fast Paced Middle East Solar Market

With “gigawatts and gigawatts” of solar blooming in the Middle East desert regions, regional industry insiders are deploying new models to maintain those clean energy plants.

Solar professionals in Jordan and other MENA countries are not waiting for the organic growth of photovoltaic (PV) operations, maintenance and asset management services experienced in other parts of the market.  They are learning from the models matured in Europe and the U.S. to accelerate the application of operations & maintenance (O&M) and asset management (AM) for their regional plants.

A standout example of this MENA solar market leadership is recently awarded Solar Pioneer, Tareq Khalifeh.  He leads MASE, a Jordan based solar developer and O&M supplier.  He was featured in a recent Solar O&M Insider podcast, “Solar O&M in the Middle East.”

Alectris Solar O&M Insider Middle East episdoeTo short course the organic development paths for solar site maintenance expertise found in other regions, MASE partnered with global service provider, Alectris.  The Solar O&M Insider podcast upon which this article is based also features Emanuele Tacchino, Business Development Manager of Western Europe & Middle East, for Alectris.

This insider’s perspective of solar O&M in the Middle East explores three key areas.  Listen to the podcast or read the transcript to access the full discussion.

  1. Solar Trends in Jordan and Middle East
  2. Regional Implications for O&M
  3. Arabia One Solar – Demonstrating New Integrated O&M Model Success

I            Solar Trends in Jordan and the Middle East

MASE solar in JordanQuickly Expanding Solar Capacity
“The general impression is the Middle East is full of oil. That’s partly true, but not for Jordan unfortunately, which is a country very poor in natural resources. In 2013 a strategic decision was made in Jordan to develop the clean energy sector, which is when the people started thinking about solar, and that’s when we got into solar,” explains Khalifeh.

“Jordan was one of the first countries to develop the solar market. Then followed Egypt, the UAE, and several other countries putting plans on the table to develop solar in their own countries. What we’re seeing now is a very huge boost in solar in Middle East.”

Now, as Tareq explains, “gigawatts and gigawatts of projects are being developed and built over a very short period of time.”

“The Middle East represents the next game changer in the solar world,” said Emanuele Tacchino of Alectris. “Let’s just think about the last unbelievable prices offered in the PPAs from their bidders, Abu Dhabi, for example. I see that all of these opportunities shall drive and force in some way all the solar industries, EPCs, O&M to an expected level of competitiveness in terms of gross efficiency, reliability to level absolutely unexpected only few years ago, and that is especially true for O&M services provided for the whole life of these big plants.”

The Solar O&M Race is On
With the accelerated schedule of solar development, time is of the essence to simultaneously develop O&M, AM infrastructure to maintain these plants. Maintenance and operational plans for the plants must be cured in the beginning of the development cycles to ensure the plant’s energy production and performance meet bankability standards by the worldwide network of financial lending firms bankrolling this solar explosion.

“There is a very significant developer presence here in the Middle East, and we see the big projects being led by local and regional developers. Unfortunately, what we’re not seeing in comparison to the trends in Europe and the States and elsewhere is a local or regional EPC presence. Most of the big projects here in the region have been constructed by international EPC contractors, whether from Europe, China, and the States and elsewhere. So that really leaves a void in terms of local technical know-how and presence to maintain the sustainability of these projects,” said Khalifeh.

Demanding MENA Geography calls for Tailored Solar O&M
While there are certainly desert and other regions of the world with similar topography as the Middle East, Khalifeh explains the geography of the region buts additional demands on local expertise for site performance.  “The region has very different environments than the rest of the world, including very harsh desert conditions in some places and widely varying altitudes. In fact, Jordan has the lowest altitudes in the world.”

This results in very different solar PV operating conditions, creating “interesting implications for O&M, and reinforces the importance of local presence. You must be able to hit the ground running from day one post plant commissioning.”

II           Regional Implications for Solar PV O&M in the Middle East

solar-omam-mena-alectris-and-mase-webTo meet the specific considerations of the Middle East solar market, MASE and Alectris have developed a services and software model already proven with a utility scale project.  This model will be explored in a case study by the companies at the Solar O&M, AM MENA event this month.

The tenants of this new O&M model developed by Alectris and MASE include:

  • Combined Expertise
  • Integrated, Bankable O&M Model
  • Cloud Based Reporting

Combined Expertise
Alectris and MASE have leapfrogged the organic O&M market development process by combining their global and regional expertise.

With a track record in operational and management support of far flung portfolio assets, Alectris grew out of the European solar market.  The company brings it’s on the ground experience with a wide variety of geographic environments to the table along with an award winning solar EPR (Enterprise Resource Planning) cloud based software platform, ACTIS.  Alectris is also very active in the development of O&M standardization efforts in the UE and U.S.  The alliance thus benefits from long standing industry experience of Alectris while realizing the efficiencies of tools honed in other markets for performance optimizations.

Alectris Solar ERP control room photoThe regional point of view, developer experience and on the ground technical expertise MASE fulfills is equally important to this combined model.  MASE is an expansion into clean energy of a Jordan based company with 20 years of large scale energy project development.  Additionally, MASE acts as a developer, working with global financial entities to bring multi megawatt projects to the region. This owner/operator perspective hones the O&M, AM offerings to ensure project acceptance from financing partners.

Integrated, Bankable O&M Model
“Bankability is the most crucial aspect in PV development, starting from development up to construction, and the whole life of a PV plant,” said Tacchino.  “Everything needs to be performed in the right way to grant the bankability of the investment and the financing.”

The traditional “construction to O&M service provider handoff” model found in many parts of the solar industry creates unnecessary risk by isolating development, construction and maintenance/ long term management into siloed functions.  In mature markets it is very common to find the application of O&M and AM expertise delayed to post warranty handoff from the EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) entity.  The specifications of maintenance and management for the project’s Reliability, Availably and Maintainability (RAM) then hinge on later stage involvement.

MASE and Alectris are applying an integrated model bringing O&M, AM expertise into early stage development to ensure investors realize long term performance and bankability.

“We have been involved in various ways, in big tenders in Middle East and we can confirm that there is this need. Every bidder, every tender needs to demonstrate a concrete plan for successful long-term operation and management of such solar facilities,” explains Tacchino.

Cloud Based Reporting
A critical component in the speed to market strategy of Alectris and MASE is the utilization of the ACTIS cloud based Solar ERP.  Deploying the ACTIS software platform for solar PV plant operations, maintenance and asset management functionality provides a distinct advantage over other forms of reporting.

All data monitoring streams are brought up into one login accessible platform.  It is cloud based with modules to operations, maintenance and asset management instead of focusing on just one aspect of the life cycle needs.  It is also tailored to solar PV plant optimization. The system allows MASE team members to provide a wide range of reporting capabilities to the stakeholders in the Arabia One Solar project and others managed by them.

III          Arabia One Solar – Demonstrating New Integrated O&M Model Success

arabia-one-solar
A year ago this month, Alectris and MASE announced the inauguration of their partnership with Arabia One Solar, a 11.52 MWp Jordan PV plant servicing as the apex of their new model to create financial bankability in emerging solar markets.

The project, which has been developed by MASE, represented the opportunity to strategically develop their combined expertise and integrated early stage O&M models.  MASE leads the field operations and maintenance services for the solar plant, supervised and supported by the global asset care technical expertise and plant management software capabilities of Alectris.

Arabia One Solar is supported by tier one sponsors and internationally recognized bankable EPC, equipment and service providers including financing from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation (FINNFUND). IFC is a member of the World Bank Group, the largest worldwide development institution focused exclusively on the private sector in developing countries.

The project will be the focus of a joint presentation by the two companies this month in Amman, Jordan, called the Solar O&M and Asset Management MENA event. The case study presentation is called: “A Model to Enhance O&M Bankability in Emerging Solar Markets.”

arabia-one-solar-mase-om-preventative-maintenance-2-png“We’re going to focus on the main difference between a classic EPC plus O&M model and an optimized approach, where the EPC, developers and third-party or an independent O&M provider are working together from the first stages of the plant development,” said Khalifeh.

“The presentation will focus on building up bankability, how we’ve achieved such a model being considered bankable and acceptable to lenders. We are going to speak about how we are setting up the model to mitigate the potential risks out of this model, especially risks during the operational phase.”

“The case study will highlight how this model is structured, utilizing the involvement from Alectris as the global player in the initial and training phases and how there is a very clear structure of handover to the local player, in this case being MASE. We’re going to really compare these two models together and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each model.  Based on our Arabia One Solar project experience, we see the advantages of the integrated O&M model outweigh the advantages of the classic EPC plus O&M approach.”

“Finally, we’re going to speak about the results and what we have seen in operating real plants with this model.  This is not theory. There’s been lot of theoretical talk here in the Middle East about projects. There’s been a lot of planning and a lot of written papers and so on, but there are very few examples of on-the-ground achievements, and we think this is a very important one.  It is the successful embodiment of the model we have developed with Alectris.”