Four ways to optimize solar asset performance

By Chris Larkin, Asset Management Director, Distributed Solar Development

The long-term growth of the solar industry has reached a tipping point. Installed capacity of solar projects, average portfolio size, shared ownership models and average asset age are all increasing. Meanwhile, the cost of PV modules is declining.

The challenge now is how to manage it all to mitigate the various risks of site hosting, development and subscriptions, all while accelerating adoption. Proper asset management helps generate as much energy as possible and reduce downtime, both of which enable the developers, customers and investors to earn more.

Developers and partners can ensure proactive and comprehensive asset management with an approach that is performance-driven and scalable. Here are the four key components of a successful asset management program to drive optimization and performance.

  1. Create strong functional groups with robust practices and processes

Credit: DSD

Accurate financial assumptions, paired with robust design, sound construction and thorough commissioning practices, will set up a project for success and optimize the potential of any asset. Having a strong partnership and great communication throughout the early stages of a project, along with regular quality control inspections, can mitigate risks and make for easier maintenance and stronger production once a solar site is in operation. It’s also critical to ensure that all equipment, including the monitoring system, is set up correctly and running as it should.

Strong technical design knowledge and practices are imperative. A central tenet of good design is accurately modeling how much energy the site will produce to ensure it can meet customer expectations.

From a financial asset management perspective, understanding the revenue streams and how a site is tracking against expected revenue is paramount. A robust financial tracking and invoicing system that can accurately demonstrate exactly what the customer is paying for goes a long way in building consumer confidence and loyalty as well as portfolio success.

  1. Monitor assets daily and review performance trends on a weekly and monthly basis

Monitoring assets daily and consistently reviewing asset performance will allow for solar project owners to track performance and quickly catch issues should they arise. The best way to do this is by using an on-site monitoring system that gives a remote, 24/7 look at generation equipment, modules, inverters and tracks how they are performing against expected values with the occurring weather.

With remote monitoring, it’s not always clear which alerts require action or whether there may be less obvious problems that are reducing the system’s output without triggering an alert. This is why it’s important to have trained experts conduct weekly and monthly reviews of the PV system’s performance to catch more subtle performance problems. Vigilant monitoring will catch aberrations quickly so corrections can be made to get performance back on track.

Think about recent wildfires in California. Solar assets in affected areas may have been fully functional, but they were surely impaired as heavy smoke limited sunlight and ash soiled the solar panels. In this case, monitoring would not issue an alert, but the weekly and monthly analysis of reporting would certainly demonstrate decreased performance over time.

This kind of accurate performance data analysis is the easiest and most impactful way to achieve performance and revenue optimization.

  1. Respond to performance issues fast

Credit: DSD

Like everything else in life, unexpected issues will arise. Responding quickly to correct these issues and return the site to full service as soon as possible should always be the goal.

That is why establishing strong lines of communication with stakeholders on-site is vital. If the first contact is not available, who is next in line to call? Who can provide access to the property or the equipment to make the correction and get the site back running?

It’s also critical to develop a network of trusted and competent operations and management providers (both internal and external) that can be deployed to sites quickly to correct issues as they arise.

  1. Perform preventative, planned maintenance of solar equipment

It’s helpful to think of on-site maintenance in the same way one might approach servicing the family minivan.

The car owner (and in many cases the dealer) invests in planned maintenance like an engine tune-up or 50-point inspection. This preventative maintenance plan should be regular and robust, at least once a year, and address any issues before they become problems. One should consider how and when these preventive maintenance visits to the solar site should take place so they do not disrupt other on-site activities.

Good asset management is critical for optimizing the performance of assets. By getting involved in projects from the outset, monitoring assets daily to catch and respond to issues quickly and performing preventative maintenance on equipment, solar site owners can reduce downtime and increase the economic output of assets.