We are hosting a webinar on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. called Uncovering Hidden Value in Your Solar Fleet. It was pitched to us by Solar-Log as info that will help solar installers minimize plant down-time, identify critical performance errors, reduce truck rolls and even find cost-effective retrofits. Could be some valuable info for you company, and you can sign up for that here.
But it also had me wondering more about the value of third-party monitoring services in general, which is what Solar-Log specializes in. What does it bring to the table that solar inverter monitoring alone doesn’t? In addition to this webinar, Solar-Log recently published two white papers (part 1, and part 1) to address that question. I’d recommend reading them for yourself, but here are three tidbits that stood out to me if you want to save a click.
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Basics worth repeating
When a solar PV system is not functioning as it should, that means less energy production, which means a loss of ROI for a customer. That is a duh statement to be sure, but it’s also a scenario that occurs often enough in the solar industry that it bears constant repeating. A great example from the Solar-Log white paper highlights how easily overlooked issues add up:
A 52kWp solar plant experienced a malfunction leaving several of the inverters producing only a fraction of what they should have been producing. This partial failure went undetected for 31 days, equaling a loss of 2,904 kWh. If we apply the electricity cost ($0.12/ kWh) to the power loss, we can conclude that the plant owner lost a total of $348 in just 1 month.
Equipping yourself with the best tools for avoiding such a scenario seems like a good idea.
The value of simplification
My main question about a third-party monitoring service might be the same as yours: Why do we need it if inverters all have their own monitoring services baked in?
The obvious answer is allowing yourself to be more “inverter agnostic” in your product offering while avoiding the headaches involved with switching among the various inverter monitoring services throughout your entire fleet. But the more compelling argument is how third-party monitoring / O&M platforms add a bit of future-proofing flexibility. These are all 20-30 year assets you are installing and monitoring every day, and a lot can change over 30 years!
Inverter-agnostic monitoring systems provide flexibility. Integration with additional components like weather sensors, consumption meters, and batteries may be limited by a specific inverter brand’s platform. Companies can easily switch to a new inverter brand, as manufacturers change and new models or brands come on the market. This is especially relevant when considering market developments over the past 10 years.
There is more to monitor
While all of the above is well and good, paying for another service on top of the usual inverter monitoring then means more cost. We’re trying to reduce soft costs, right? Solar-Log’s argument is there is a lot of ROI to be gained via an inverter-agnostic O&M platform because there is simply a lot more to learn about each PV system’s performance than just what’s measured and reported by the inverter.
While inverter failures can be the source of yield loss, there are a number of other factors that could negatively influence solar plant power production. Additional factors include cable damage, installation errors, shading, or dirty modules. These types of errors are difficult to detect without a professional monitoring device.
Staying on top of those issues or gaining a deeper dive into performance data can mean way better service, system performance and happier customers.