Keeping Standards and Operation Rates High with 2M Solar Sites

Keeping Standards and Operation Rates High with 2M Solar Sites

It’s official. The number of PV solar sites across the U.S. is now 2 million strong.[1] The update from SEIA comes with the perspective that while the first million took almost 40 years to accomplish, this second million has come just three years after that 1-million-site milestone was reached.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the solar industry as it picks up speed and market share across the energy portfolio. In fact, SEIA’s president and CEO project that our $17 billion industry looks to double again in the next five years.

With Increased Deployment Comes Increased Failure Rates 

While it is welcome news that solar is dominating as an emerging energy source, there is more work to be done on the asset management and O&M side.

A new Solar Risk Assessment report takes a look at the numbers on failure rates for solar sites. Failure was previously thought to be around 1 percent, but kWh Analytics finds the true number to be more than 5 percent.[2]

This is detailed in kWh Analytics’ contribution to the Solar Risk Assessment, which notes that the “1 in 100 years” scenario for on-site malfunction and downtime actually occurs more than once in 20 years.

Failures Spell Danger for Asset Owners’ Financial Investments

The default probability due to underperformance can be daunting. Holistic service on established and new portfolios is important for asset owners to protect their interests.

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As the report notes, “a 7-year loan sized at 1x P99 would have a 37% chance of breaching its coverage ratio, at least once over the loan life due to underperformance alone–necessitating reliance on credit support to avoid default.”[3]

Obviously, financial institutions backing these loans want to ensure the security of these sites. Since these issues are often due to underperformance, the problem can often be addressed simply by servicing the site as efficiently as possible.

Irradiance, Equipment Failure, and Environmental Factors

The interests of both the asset owners and the asset managers should be to make sure that these sites are viable, not just upon installation, but over the long run. A good starting point would be for both parties to gain a better understanding of the Independent Engineer P99 estimate.

When comparing the presumed historical 1 percent failure rate with the more than 5 percent rate, the Solar Risk Assessment report notes that real-world numbers might not be taken into account in the P99 estimate.

This is because irradiance shortfall is not the only culprit in underperformance. Inverter failure, snow cover, dust, and fossil fuel pollution can all significantly reduce production and might be completely overlooked. 

Borrego Solar notes in the report that apart from environmental factors, 25 percent of underperformance can be traced back to equipment issues. More specifically, dependence on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for the return merchandise authorization (RMA) process for inverters or inverter components, or for troubleshooting under warranty, can stall performance for long periods of time.

Other major factors are particular requirements when coordinating with O&M providers, failed attempts at remote troubleshooting, and long waits for manufacturer technicians, all of which cause delays and extended downtime. 

Asset Management + O&M Done Right Protects Solar Investments

The best way to work through these challenges is to address them in a comprehensive and integrated way. This cuts down on the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, speeds up processes on both sides to protect assets from going offline, and gets those assets up and running again sooner.

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At SunSystem Technology, we service across the system (Residential, C&I, and Utility) on a daily basis. Our technicians have experience on thousands of sites with multifaceted issues.

Asset owners send these jobs our way, and as we address them, we service the whole portfolio, gaining collective knowledge that allows us to anticipate, diagnose, and fix issues preemptively, or as quickly as possible.

In many cases, there is potential for a multitude of complex issues in the asset management and O&M space which is why our vast experience enables us to make the right diagnosis and fix quickly. Solar Asset Owners know they can send the most involved issues to us at SunSystem Technology since we’re experts across the industry.

It is this kind of broader understanding that will be essential in making sure these burgeoning solar sites are not just up, but that they stay healthy over the long-term.