Designing and building photovoltaic (PV) energy plants is a major focus for Blue Oak Energy. However, once the solar plant is operational, a watchful operation and maintenance (O&M) staff is crucial for realizing the long-term financial return and benefits you
expect. Commercial and utility solar facilities are excellent solutions for producing clean energy, but if not properly maintained potential revenues will lead to what we call the “expected disappointment”.
These are some of the unexpected events we have experienced while maintaining solar facilities across many geographies for more than a decade:
Electrical equipment naturally provides a warm and dry habitat for creatures of many forms. Also fenced solar farms provide protected areas for rodents to multiply and thrive. It is essential to ensure the electrical equipment is sealed and out of reach for walking, crawling, jumping and slithering vermin.
Module breakage just happens. Galactic homerun fly balls and golf balls seem to have a magnetic attraction to solar modules in some locations. The occasional massive hailstorm has been known to cause problems in severe weather locations. A frequent visual inspection of the modules is important to identify natural breakage or manufacturer defects.
Inverters are complex devices with many internal electronic components such as breakers, contactors, Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBTs), Field Effect Transistors (FETs), resistors, capacitors, power supplies and more. The amount of heat moved through an inverter presents a challenge for the manufacturers of the amazing power electronics gear we deploy. Regular inspection, cleaning and inverter operational verification is essential to long term solar facility success.
We have seen fences damaged from adjacent trees, from the neighboring farmer, and from vandalism. Ensuring sound perimeter protection also ensures protection of the equipment inside the fence.
Regular management of vegetation growth is important to prevent interruption to the solar facility’s peak energy production. Vegetation can create shade on the solar array and grow into or around the electrical gear creating a fire hazard. Without proper vegetation management, a solar site operator is allowing an electrical hazard to persist.
Theft / vandalism
Just as copper conductors have become a target for vandals, solar facilities have gained attention as well. A quiet solar facility at the end of a dirt road can be an enticing target to those who realize the equipment’s value. We have found that a relatively inexpensive security system with motion detection and video surveillance is a solid way to protect your solar asset.
Occasionally, a voltage spike or disturbance on the utility power grid can cause damage on a solar facility. It happens once in a while and requires breakers to be reset and/or fuses to be replaced. An attentive solar system operator will receive an alarm and will respond to repairs at the site.
For many sites, we provide an annual module cleaning service. Cleaning will remove dirt, grime and guano from the solar module glass. An immediate increase in energy production is a nice bonus after the annual module cleaning.
Blue Oak Energy has a vested interest in the continued efficient operation of photovoltaic systems because we are passionate about this technology and industry. We possess the knowledge of the many solar technologies deployed over the last decade and know many of the sites deployed across the US. There are general maintenance issues which need constant appraisal by a regularly visiting maintenance professional and the office supporting asset manager possessing a keen eye and deep understanding for these sites.
As Che Geiser, who heads up Blue Oak Energy’s O&M team points out, “There are a host of areas that you can predict and manage. Blue Oak Energy has great strengths, because we start as an engineering firm,” said Geiser. “We have a very strong expertise in this field, and coming from an engineering base, we really understand how these systems are built, so we know how to maintain them.”