SolarPower Europe Drives Solar Performance with O&M Best Practices

February 28, 2017

The drive to create standardized best practices for solar operations, maintenance and asset management is a fast-moving effort around the globe.  Organizations are working with a wide variety of industry stakeholders to mitigate plant operational risk and increase performance by creating standardized best practices.

With the oldest fleet of solar photovoltaic plants globally, it is no surprise that Europe’s leading industry association, SolarPower Europe, should be spearheading operations and maintenance (O&M) standardization initiatives.

SolarPower Europe tackles risk mitigation and plant performance by participating in a number of industry events, discussions, and studies.  One such effort is with the European Commission on a project called Solar Bankability, to establish common practice for professional risk assessments and reduce the risks associated with investments and PV projects. The association also develops its own programs including the O&M task force.

To get an insider’s view of SolarPower Europe’s O&M best practices activities, Solar O&M Insider recently spoke with the organization’s CEO, Dr. James Watson and the O&M task force leader, Vassilis Papaeconomou, managing director of Alectris. For the full discussion listen to the podcast or reference the transcript here.

Europe’s First Solar PV O&M Guidelines
The lack of a harmonized approach to O&M moved SolarPower Europe and its members such as Alectris to pursue standardization efforts. “People are saying in Europe, we’ve got this huge standing capacity. But from one country to the next, O&M is done differently. Even within the country, it’s done differently, “said Dr. James Watson. “It was very clearly recognized by asset managers and other developers that we needed to move to a better understanding of ‘What are the best practices for O&M?’”

SolarPower Europe unveiled its new Solar O&M Best Practices Guidelines at Intersolar Munich last year. Europe’s first solar PV O&M guidelines document, the initiative represented 12 months of work by the O&M task force, which is made up of leading solar industry companies representing several gigawatts of solar capacity.

“We’ve had very strong feedback from industry since we introduced version 1.0 of the Guidelines. This feedback is from media, interested stakeholders, all across Europe and in many markets,” said Watson.  “More and more companies are now aware of these best practice guidelines, taking them on, using them, and actually improving the standard of O&M that is currently delivered not just in Europe, but across the world. They understand the need for standardization, a harmonization of process, to make sure we have a stronger offering for operations and maintenance.”

“From our point of view, I would say we’re very, very satisfied with the way people are understanding version 1.0,” continued Watson. “But this is not something you can sleep on. Solar is a very quick-moving sector. We have to keep on top of the fast-moving and dynamic nature of the sector. Therefore, we have to keep asking people ‘What do we need to change to keep things moving forward?’”

O&M Best Practices Survey
To move past anecdotal insights into the impact of the initial Best Practices Guidelines and shape the next iteration, SolarPower Europe is working on several levels to gather and assimilate industry stakeholder feedback.

In its upcoming March newsletter, SolarPower Europe is asking solar professionals from all aspects of the market to complete a short survey which will be available for members and nonmembers.  This is an opportunity to submit feedback on the document and suggest changes.

“The survey with its concrete questions will help us understand how the Guidelines are perceived by the market and what the market actually wants from the O&M task force as a next step,” explained Papaeconomou.  “Because what is important is not what we think the best practice should be. This document is intended for the market. We should have our ears open and listen to what the market has to say, how this is perceived and plan our next steps according to the feedback.”

O&M Roundtable Debate at this Year’s SolarPower Summit
Additionally, the organization is creating a forum for feedback during its preeminent SolarPower Summit 7-8 March in Brussels.

Formerly named the Solar Market Workshop, this important European solar industry event is in its 12th year.  It will include a series of roundtable debates targeting key industry topics including an O&M roundtable discussion on 8 March to be led by Vassilis Papaeconomou.

The roundtable, as described on the website, will provide participants with an overview of the importance of best practices of O&M and the activities SolarPower Europe has planned for 2017. For example, in 2017, SolarPower Europe is looking to further improve and disseminate these Guidelines in Europe and in emerging markets like India and Africa. It is also leading the O&M working stream of the Solar Energy Standardisation Initiative (SESI), a joint initiative of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Terawatt Initiative (TWI). The objective of SESI’s O&M working stream is to develop freely available O&M template contracts. The roundtable will also give attendees an opportunity to share their expectations and experience regarding O&M.

“There are three major points that need special attention and focus from the task force. These are awareness, dissemination, and adoption of the Guidelines,” said Papaeconomou.  “The O&M roundtable debate at SolarPower Summit provides us with a discussion forum to gather specific input as we shape version 2.0 in the months ahead.”

Update – Alectris Presentation Now Available
Click Here to Download Presentation

On the evolution of the SolarPower Summit, Watson explained the intention of the event this year saying, “it is a much bigger event, whereby many different players will come in. We will have two strands, so not just the usual market orientation. That will still be there.  We’ll still talk about ‘What are the most important markets? Where’s the growth? Where’s the decline?’ and we will also have a strand that will look at the legislative agenda. Because in Europe, we have this clean energy package on the table, which was put in place in December, and which is going to be discussed for a couple of years before it is implemented. And so, we felt we ought to introduce the policy line as well.”

Lead the Way in Emerging Markets
“We have an enormous opportunity for SolarPower Europe and the European stakeholders, to use all this expertise and knowhow that we have gained in the past and lead the way in emerging markets,” said Papaeconomou.  “The deployment of solar is moving swiftly in many emerging markets globally. Providing best practice guidelines to those markets now is critically important to ensure solar bankability, investment and long term plant profitability.”