Author: Jason Deign, Solarplaza
Stern Energy is launching a service to capture and maintain all PV project data in one place. The service should help technical asset management and operations and maintenance (O&M) activities by updating, storing and proactively using PV plant technical data.
Storing and updating technical information through intelligent, time-saving tools can help in the running of PV plants which frequently lack full documentation, according to Stefan Torri, Stern’s chief executive officer. “We’re not talking about the software for the remote monitoring of the technical performance of the plants,” said Torri. “The aim is to create a tool that could bridge the activities of asset managers and O&M providers.”
Having a full, up-to-date database of plant components and technical documentation could be beneficial to asset managers, plant owners and O&M teams alike. Torri claimed that “this is important in countries where plants are being constructed and commissioned nowadays and possibly even more in mature markets where there is an active secondary solar market, such as Italy.”
He said: “In both cases, PV plant buyers frequently end up with assets that are missing important documentation. Often it is the case that the electrical schemes do not reflect the built status or the lists of components are not fully updated or contain mistakes.”
PV plant buyers frequently end up with assets that are missing important documentation. Often it is the case that the electrical schemes do not reflect the built status or the lists of components are not fully updated or contain mistakes.
In any case, he noted: “The information is rarely organised with the purpose of serving daily operations.”
In the past, he said: “The market players were mainly concerned with enhancing daily performance and postponed a deeper dive into acquiring the knowledge of the plant.”
To remedy this, Stern is proposing an interactive tool that could easily incorporate this information into a detailed three-dimensional geo-referenced model of the plant, supplemented with module status data gathered using drone inspections. The tool would allow plant managers and Stern’s O&M teams to have an ‘as-built’ model of the plant at hand, which they can navigate through and use to query plant details down to the level of a single module.
At the module level, the tool would not only provide basic information such as the brand, name and serial number of the item, but also, for example, the results of its most recent thermal inspection, IV testing and status of any warranty claim. It could provide further details if the module was substituted, for instance due to a theft or failure.
Having this information helps Stern O&M teams to identify which panels might need follow-up inspections, said Torri, or which other need to be monitored over time. “It’s a way to track not only traditional information, but the work flow, analysis and history of every single component,” he said.
If you have all the modules mapped, with their serial numbers correctly placed on an updated layout on your screen, then identifying 500 missing modules is much more effective, saving time and money. If you have knowledge of the plant you are faster in reacting.
Such a tool helps improve the efficiency and effectiveness of O&M by allowing technical teams to focus more easily on specific challenges. A plant owner suffering module theft, for example, may have to try to work out the missing component serial numbers by looking for gaps in the remaining inventory. “This is cost and time,” Torri said.
“But if you have all the modules mapped, with their serial numbers correctly placed on an updated layout on your screen, then identifying 500 missing modules is much more effective, saving time and money. If you have knowledge of the plant you are faster in reacting.”
Since 2014, the Gestore Servizi Energetici (GSE), the Italian state-owned company that pays the Conto Energia incentive mechanism, has been carrying out inspections on subsidized PV plants to identify possible fraud. Complying with GSE inspection requirements has forced asset owners to assess the quality of their documents and check all the components of the plant were correctly included in the as-built documentation delivered at the provisional acceptance test.
Torri is concerned that in many cases the information will at best have been consigned to a folder. The tool Stern is implementing not only helps to map plant consistency with as-built documents, but also allows owners to have the information incorporated into a database for easy access later and for use on daily basis, through a user-friendly interactive platform.
In the case of defective connectors on a given set of panels, a plant owner could check if the modules all belonged to the same batch. If so, then the owner might choose to carry out predictive maintenance on other modules of the same batch, reducing the need for corrective measures.
The tool also saves time and money in the event of a warranty claim, by making it easier for asset managers to identify components that might be affected. For plants where basic information is missing, Stern proposes carrying out a detailed plant assessment, coupled with a health check including a detailed thermographic inspection.\
We work to bring together original and updated information to help plant management gain further efficiency and effectiveness, enhancing plant control during technical asset management.
Assuming a plant owner already has a full list of component serial numbers and an O&M service journal for the plant, the tool could be implemented in a couple of weeks, Torri said. This includes a full drone-based survey of the plant and layout redrawing on a computer-aided design system. For now, Stern is providing the tool as an upgrade of its O&M offering to asset owners in Italy and the UK.
It has already been implemented across around 30 MW of solar capacity. “Here at Stern we work to bring together original and updated information to help plant management gain further efficiency and effectiveness, enhancing plant control during technical asset management,” said Torri.