SolarPower Europe’s O&M Best Practices Guidelines

July 14, 2016

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.

Alectris_solarpower_europe'sO&M_best_practices_guidelines_TwitterTo get an insider’s view on the development and importance of the new O&M Best Practices Guidelines, the Solar O&M Insider talked with executives involved with the creation of the milestone document.  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 participated in this discussion. Listen to the podcast for further insights into the development history, intentions, benefits and steps moving forward for this initiative.

Europe’s First Ever Solar PV O&M Guidelines
Standardization initiatives are taking place in the United States by such organizations as the SunSpec Alliance and NREL.  The publication of these new guidelines from the SolarPower Europe solar operations and maintenance (O&M) task force is a first of its kind in Europe and is an important step towards establishing an industry-wide standard for utility scale solar.

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.”

“All the evidence points towards the fact that Operations and Maintenance (O&M) are being recognized for their critical role in optimizing photovoltaic solar power assets. O&M has long evolved from the days of being an add-on to Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contracts and has charted its own course to become a standalone industry that is seen as a critical component in the solar energy value chain,” states the team in the guidelines opening statement.

Executives from leading solar industry companies representing several gigawatts of solar capacity contributed to the 56-page study. Those companies are active in many aspects of the industry.  The list of contributing members includes 3E, ABB, Adler Solar, Alectris, British Solar Renewables, Conergy, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, Enel Green Power, Enphase Energy, First Solar, Fortum, Iris Helias, Jinko Solar, Kenergia Sviluppo, Lark Energy, Martifer Solar, Messaritis Renewables, Meteocontrol, Powerhub, Primrose Solar Management, Schneider-Electric, Solarcentury, Tco-solar, Trina Solar, and UL.

SolarPower Europe GuidelinesO&M Best Practices Defined by Those Working in the Solar PV Field
“This is a standard or best practices as 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, marginally relevant stakeholders or lawyers,” explained Ioannis Thomas Theologitis, Senior Advisor and Task Force Coordinator at SolarPower Europe.

“This is important to highlight. We hope to have an impact. 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.”

Solar Executives who can Benefit from this Report
In this report O&M focuses on the technical operations and maintenance services for utility-scale PV  power plants. Asset management, which is also a very important piece of PV plant ownership, is seen to cover all the commercial and administrative activities of importance during the lifetime of the plant.

The guidelines are not tailored for each stakeholder involved in the solar asset; however, as it states, “the use is similar for all; understand the mandatory requirements and necessity of a professional O&M and incorporate accordingly those guidelines into the service package. Any of the directly relevant stakeholders can benefit from this work, tailor it to their needs without lowering the bar and know what to ask for, offer or expect.”

SolarPower Europe

The figure is redesigned and based on a figure from GTM Research report: “Megawatt-Scale PV Plant Operations and Maintenance: Services, Markets and Competitors, 2013-2017”, 2013

Equal Weight Given to Solar PV Maintenance and Operations
“During the scoping exercise that we did before the kickoff, we tried to look for 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,” explained Theologitis. “We wanted the focus to be European-wide and we also wanted to bring forward something that is closer to real life operations of a solar PV plant.”

“We have seen more documents on the maintenance part, but the operations was somehow neglected. So we wanted 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,” said Theologitis.

Vassilis Papaeconomou of Alectris concurred. “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.”

OM_final_160628_Page_01Solar industry executives can find these major areas covered in the guidelines:

  • Definitions
  • Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S)
  • Personnel & Training
  • Power Plant Operations
  • Management of Change
  • Warrant Management
  • Spare Parts Management
  • Power Plant Maintenance
  • Solar PV Plant Security
  • Contract Management
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIS)
  • Contractual Commitments

One small example of the well of information found in the guidelines is the reporting section. These “proposed quantitative indicators which should be in reports. The type (predicted, measured or estimated) of the reporting value is also cited. The list is not exhaustive. Furthermore, additional information is part of the periodic reporting such as development of spare parts/inventory (minimum requirement), status of all security and surveillance system (best practice) etc.”

Source: SolarPower Europe O&M Best Practices Guidelines Version 1.0

Source: SolarPower Europe O&M Best Practices Guidelines Version 1.0

Standardization is the Path to a Sustainable Solar O&M Market
“The path to a sustainable market is standardization,” said Papaeconomou. “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. This starts with defining industry terms as even the terms of operation and maintenance, asset management are not clearly defined in our industry.”

“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.”

As an example, the report states, “The Task Force has also identified shortcomings in the Operations field where standardization is less present and therefore, this report tries to list in a concise and simple

way important steps that should be taken (e.g. how to do predictive, preventative and corrective maintenance, contract management, reporting, what are the monitoring requirements etc.).”

To enhance a systematic approach, industry members can also access a suggested Maintenance Plan has been created (excel sheet) which covers all periodic actions to prevent failures and ensure optimal operating conditions of equipment and of the entire PV plant (Preventative Maintenance).

How Much Does O&M Cost?
The guidelines provide many potential opportunities for direct market impact.  When asked what direct benefits he sees from the document, Vassilis Papaeconomou who runs a global solar asset care firm, answered, “We are active in the market and we get so many times the question, ‘How much does O&M cost?’ 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. So, I think a first good upside of the document is the potential to help the stakeholders of the market to start talking about the same thing.”

“As a second upside there are investors, especially in emerging markets, but also in Europe 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 of what we consider to be a high-end 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.”

Potential Global Impact of the European Based O&M Guidelines
“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 related to O&M,” said Papaeconomou.

“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. Given we are also a company active in such emerging markets, I’m very much convinced this is going to be a great help.”

Click here to download the O&M Best Practices Guidelines