With supply chains being disrupted and reduced on site staff – O&M teams that are typically out sourced by large asset owners have seen a big hit in their ability to continue to handle maintenance on these systems.
Most O&M that occurs actually happens around part replacement or cleaning to ensure performance remains high. However, due to closed manufacturing plants in China and other major suppliers – sites still remain nonoperational during the reopening process now taking place.
Naturally, utility scale plants aren’t the ones that have been hit the hardest, but Distributed Generation solar systems – 20 kW to 5 MW – are currently the hardest for asset owners to manage. Especially the systems on PPAs or on loan by the property owner are difficult to manage since crews can’t get out to the site to verify what faults there are within the system.
This is where digitization comes in as a necessary addition to help reduce the challenges associated with managing a large portfolio of assets. Adding in sub-meters to verify performance of solar & storage systems at a breaker level, deeper diagnostics on individual panels and equipment within a system with a fairly decent amount of data analysis would help reduce the manpower needed to monitor and determine what parts and systems need replacing to keep sites operational through future lock-downs or when there is a reduced labor pool to pull from.
But it goes deeper than that. Handling social distancing protocols at a utility farm increases the associated O&M Costs. Which throws a lot of the economics of solar out.
It will be interesting to monitor the impact a Work From Home and post Covid lifestyle will accelerate the adoption of digital technologies to ensure up-time from renewables across the grid.