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Lightsource Renewable Energy, Europe’s largest solar developer, has introduced an induction academy as part of measures designed to improve operations and maintenance (O&M) skills.
The academy aims to “take the right people with the right qualifications and turn them into qualified PV technicians capable of delivering the kind of service that is needed today,” said Mark Turner, operations director.
The move follows a growing realisation of the need for standardised O&M practices across the developer’s portfolio.
“For an O&M provider, consistency is a key performance indicator, but can also present one of the biggest challenges,” Turner said, ahead of an appearance at Solar Asset Management Europe in October.
“While it is easy to make a few improvements to a site, delivering that at scale across a wider number of plants is what O&M service providers should be judged on, especially in terms of response and performance times.”
In the UK market, he said, solar O&M customers expect a “gold standard service” regardless of the tariff environment they operate in. To meet this requirement, Lightsource has opted to bring O&M expertise in house.
“Having your own team of people who can manage all aspects of the O&M process allows you to achieve a high level of both consistency and quality,” stated Turner.
No matter how good your processes are for vetting subcontractors there is no substitute for having everything in house.
The company has found that people with the right skills are not always easy to come by, however. “Finding the right people who can deliver the high-quality maintenance service required at the price required can be difficult,” Turner said.
Initiatives such as the induction academy can help overcome this skills shortage by providing generic skills, although Turner said there was usually still a need to provide market-specific training.
“Some UK companies have brought in knowledge and experience from elsewhere, which can be extremely beneficial,” he said.
“However, each country has its own specific requirements so there is a balance which must be struck between PV-specific knowledge and country-specific knowledge.”
One example is health and safety implementation and reporting, which is more rigorous in the UK than in other European markets.
Similarly, panel-cleaning techniques are very different in the cooler and wetter climates of UK and Germany than in the hotter and dustier environments in Spain and Italy.
And while the company is keen to build in-house skills where possible, Turner said there are situations where it makes sense to draw on third parties.
“In an environment like the UK, PV plants are close to local communities so it’s vital we maintain good relationships with those communities by making good use of local services and contractors, as well as delivering custodianship of the land.” he said.
Find out more about the latest O&M strategies from leading PV companies at Solar Asset Management Europe from this October 20 in Milan, Italy.