For owners and site hosts of solar PV systems, rapid detection and resolution of performance impacting events can provide cost saving benefits that are essential to the success of solar distributed energy resources.  Given the nature of commercial and industrial scale solar energy systems, it is possible for portions of systems or even entire systems to be offline for long periods of time without being detected.  Faulty inverters, damaged panels, telemetry outages and a variety of other problems can occur unseen and have significant operational and financial impacts.  These issues, when left undetected, will continue to escalate and grow in severity until identified and resolved.

While performance monitoring software can provide the diagnostics and analytics necessary to track activities and report on performance issues, it is essential to have dedicated staff to monitor these platforms every day in order to respond to alerts and analyze reports in real-time.

A study of 350 commercial scale solar energy facilities over a period of 26 months identified over 3,500 performance impacting events.  Data from these studies indicate that the average commercial scale solar system are likely to experience between 4-5 detrimental events per year.  While many school districts, state agencies and local governments have trained staff to monitor HVAC, communication and I.T. systems, many do not retain trained personnel to monitor key energy systems on a daily basis.

Deployed software that collects data on solar energy generating systems can provide valuable information to improve understanding of projects and portfolios and identify areas of low performance.  But this information is only useful if organizations have the capacity to analyze, track and resolve the problems identified.  Proper response to performance impacting events comes down one thing, protecting the financial health of your renewable energy system.  The information from monitoring systems can help organizations avoid costly truck rolls by leveraging advanced communications technology and providing regular status updates.  But even with the best collection of string inverter level data and the most streamlined workflows, without team members to review the system reports each day, issues can still go undetected and problems can go unresolved.

Best practices in commercial scale solar PV management calls for monitoring system production and alarms in 15-minute intervals.  Asset management teams  need to review alerts and determine what corrective steps to take whenever problems arise.  This advice applies to those that own their own systems, as well as those that act as site hosts for solar systems.  In the case of systems under third-party ownership (e.g., PPA agreements), monitoring staff should work with those  owners to diagnose and resolve performance impacting situations once they have been detected.  Site hosts should not assume that a third-party owner has the ability and the desire to provide immediate resolution to problems at their facilities.  In many cases, site hosts must alert system owners to problems and follow up on the required actions, or they risk problems remaining untouched for weeks and even months.

System monitoring staff should work to gain a clear picture of the issues that cause alarms and initiate corrective measures. This requires a thorough understanding of the host facilities.  In order to identify under performance, monitoring staff should have baseline weather adjusted data to help identify when production falls below expected generation.  Examples of system issues that monitoring staff can identify are system wide outages, loss of communications, inverter level underperformance and other performance shortfalls from issues including soiling, string level equipment failures and tripped circuit breakers to name a few.

All organizations should seek to optimize their performance of their solar PV systems and achieve the savings they originally expected from their investments.  Subscribing to a performance monitoring software package is an essential part of solar PV management but equally important is securing the efforts of dedicated and trained monitoring providers.

Contact TerraVerde Energy to learn more about our asset management services which includes dedicated system monitoring for renewable energy systems.  Reach us at assetmanagement@terraverde.energy or call 619-471-5943.

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