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May 22, 2015 | Five Solar System Maintenance Services You Should Be Asking For
The ink is almost dry on your solar system purchase and installation contract, and now one crucial element remains: making sure your system remains in tip-top condition throughout its lifetime. Like any other technology, solar power generation systems of every size need periodic attention ranging from simple (but critical) cleaning to sophisticated, troubleshooting know-how that stops potential problems in their tracks. That’s where the operations and maintenance (O&M) contractor comes in.
Whether your solar manufacturer provides ongoing maintenance as part of its service, or whether you contract with a third-party solar system maintenance specialist, you’ll want to make sure all your maintenance bases are covered to avoid problems down the road. Conergy’s Director of Assets and Service Blaine Neal offers five important items you should seek from a solar system maintenance provider:
- Expertise with your manufacturer’s product. While a broad array of experience is desirable in any contractor, it’s also essential that your servicer have specific experience with the products your system’s manufacturer — OEM — installs. “Not only will system-specific experience make regular maintenance and necessary repairs more efficient and comprehensive, it may also be required by the manufacturer’s warranty provisions,” Neal cautions.
- Regular site visits. In addition to regularly scheduled maintenance visits for cleaning and other routine maintenance tasks, your contractor should visit your installation at prescribed intervals (annually is typical). Start at the beginning of your contract to make sure the new installation meets the manufacturer’s specifications and is delivering the specified wattage. On subsequent visits, comprehensive visual inspections (and repair when needed) of electrical components inside the solar array and operating equipment maintenance should be performed. Particularly, inverters should be inspected to make sure everything is functioning at peak efficiency. But don’t include cleaning of your solar panels in your O&M contract: “Try to stay away from system landscape maintenance and module washing,” Neal advises. “Most companies have resources to cover that on their own at a lower cost than an O&M contractor would charge.”
- System performance testing and energy monitoring. Increasingly, O&M providers offer sophisticated offsite electronic monitoring to provide real-time performance measurement and intervene quickly when defined limits aren’t met or are exceeded. The information gathered is also useful for assessing performance over the life of the system. “Technological advances in system monitoring, such as infrared digital imaging of electrical components (potential failure points) and curve-tracing software, help you prepare for future repairs or manage spare allocations if needed,” Neal points out, “and offer maintenance contract cost savings in the form of lower repair bills over time. “
- Qualified maintenance personnel. An O&M provider is only as good as the people who service your system. Neal advises looking for companies that use certified electricians, who by training and experience are better able to troubleshoot and fix problems with your solar system. “You need a company whose staff understands what’s going on in the field with your arrays and can explain why things need to be adjusted or changed a certain way,” Neal says. You might also want to look for service companies whose technical staff has specific professional training in solar system repair and maintenance from an educational institution such as a community college or specialized training company. Professional certification such as National Association of Board Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) may also be desirable for highly complex systems.
- Communication. In all likelihood, your solar power system will be outside the expertise of your internal maintenance staff. That means your preventive maintenance provider must be not only an expert in maintaining your system but also an adept communicator who will, at a moment’s notice, explain what must be done to correct anything that goes wrong. You should also determine up front your expectations for warranty service response. “It depends on the individual customer,” says Neal. “Some want a response within a few days and some want it within a few hours; others are OK with the standard annual visit.” Negotiating your expectations before signing a contract can prevent unexpected frustrations if warranty issues arise.
Following these few common-sense tips for maintaining your new solar system can make your life easier — and help you negotiate an O&M contract that meets your company’s system performance goals and expectations.