Solar O&M in a Changing Climate

When we speak to the challenges of operating and maintaining solar plants, we often speak of equipment and quality issues related to panels, inverters, substations, transformers, etc. These are all very real risks that must be managed to mitigate and proactively identify issues as quickly as possible.  However, solar O&M providers must also work around extreme weather events that impact the operations of PV plants.  Extreme weather requires O&M providers to be agile and responsive to maintain PV system performance.

Globally, NovaSource has experience tackling a wide range of weather events that impact the performance or health of the PV plant.  For example, in South Africa, we’ve navigated lightning strikes damaging electric circuit board components, and developed a surge protection solution that mitigated damage to these components in future storms.

In the deserts of Chile, one of our customer’s sites experienced extreme flooding that created erosion concerns.  We quickly had to navigate and repair to maintain the structural integrity of the plant.

Plants in the United States are no stranger to these types of events as well, and 2020 has had its share of unexpected weather impacting the performance or operation of our customer’s PV plants, with the California wildfires of 2020 being one recent example.  

The California wildfire season of 2020 was the most extreme wildfire season on record in the region.  One of the many adverse impacts was extremely poor air quality that lingered for weeks.  Many of our customer’s PV arrays saw reduced energy output by 20% during the month of August when compared to typical expected values.  We were able to track and calculate these losses with our real-time performance calculations. The lesson here is that real-time monitoring remains one of the most important tools for understanding how real-time conditions may be impacting your plant.

As the dust literally began to settle and the air quality cleared, the second impact of the wildfires was an increase in soiling at the arrays over a very short period.  Panel cleaning crews were already experiencing an unprecedented year with logistical constraints to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic safely, so this surge in soiling late in the panel cleaning season required O&M providers to be able to quickly respond to recover performance.  NovaSource utilizes a combination of our in-house robotic cleaning solution, in-house manual cleaning team, and teams up with external cleaning partners to cover the almost 800 sites and 1,300 cleanings that we completed nationwide in 2020. 

By using our real-time performance data and our network of cleaning options, we were able to quickly pivot and shift schedules to address the most heavily soiled locations with the greatest performance impacts.  Some sites required a double wash to remove the extraordinary levels of dust that had accumulated. 

As we move forward, solar O&M providers should expect and prepare for changing weather to continue to create new challenges and risks to the assets within our fleet.  NovaSource will continue to use our real-time analytics, flexible scheduling, and team of creative and skilled field technicians and engineers to navigate rapidly changing and extreme weather events to maintain best in class operations and performance of our global fleet.

Watch the pv magazine Quality Roundtable USA.

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