27 July 2015


Asset management: does it make sense to upgrade solar panels?

Author: Jason Deign, Solarplaza

Repowering, a billion-euro market for the wind industry, is unlikely to be an option for PV plant solar panels, an asset management expert has said.

The practice of replacing existing components of assets with new, better performing ones - variously described as repowering, uprating or upgrading - only has limited value in PV. This is mostly due to the fact that recent years have only seen small improvements in panel efficiency, said Guy Auger, CEO of Greensolver.

Increasing the total output of a plant is also challenging because it might require new permits in cases where the new exceeds a given feed-in tariff band, for example. Such tariff bands do not usually apply in the wind industry.

In the wind industry it is justified,” Auger said. “I’ve seen it in Greece and Germany. Turbines age quickly in high-wind sites, so its worth it even with only 10 years of tariff left.

Turbine makers have made great strides in improving the performance of their machines. Meanwhile the solar industry, said Auger, “has evolved in reducing costs but there is still a lot to be done in improving efficiency.”

For panels, he said:

It’s still around 20%, nowhere close to what’s been done on the wind side. When you are able to get from 20% to 35% efficiency then it will be when you change your panels.”

Currently, instances where repowering or upgrading does occur in the solar industry are usually related to plants where performance is below par.

In March this year, for example, Densys PV5 replaced the panels at a 6 MW plant in Germany with 24,000 polycrystalline silicon modules from Solar-Fabrik, after the original thin-film products, installed in 2010, failed to perform according to expectations.

Since Solar-Fabrik filed for insolvency in February, it is likely Densys PV5 was able to get the modules at a good price.

It has been suggested that a vibrant secondary PV product market means that other asset managers might want to adopt similar strategies in markets such as Germany or Italy, where rapid build-outs to meet feed-in tariff deadlines sometimes resulted in compromises on component quality.

However, Auger believes, many asset owners are happy with the performance of their plants and that often the degradation of panels is far less than was expected.

But even if repowering seems unsuitable for most PV plants, that does not mean asset managers might not want to review other areas of operations. More efficient inverters can help to increase output, for example.  

And in 2013, 6.3 GW of older PV plants in Europe and the US were upgraded with new monitoring equipment, according to GTM Research and SoliChamba Consulting.

The upgrades were to help plant managers diagnose issues, increase performance, comply with regulatory changes and standardise on a given system. These topics and more are set to be covered at Solar Asset Management Europe in Milan, Italy, this October.

Finally, getting better data from a plant may help in securing improved financial terms. “The time is now,” said Haresh Patel, chief executive of the solar energy investment platform Mercatus.

With yieldcos and securitisation taking front and center stage, every project and project portfolio will need real time rating and assessment.”

New developments in solar asset management will be analysed in detail at Solar Asset Management Europe, on October 20 and 21 in Milan, Italy.


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