Proper Operation and Maintenance Maximizes PV System’s Margin: An Interview with Energy Guard

published: 2015-04-08 13:31 | editor: | category: Interviews

Dependable operation is essential to the profitability of a PV system. When a PV system is muddied or damaged, its return on investment (ROI) rate would be cut down by either lower power output or equipment replacement. Therefore, best approach to maintain a stable power output is to have professional management of the PV system and regular checks on the system’s health. These operation and maintenance (O&M) services are exactly what Energy Guard offers to its customers.

Energy Guard’s A.V.P. Justin Lan and Director Chamber Pan gave EnergyTrend a comprehensive look of the company’s O&M services in an exclusive interview. “Clients need to know all the possible irregularities that could happen during the operation of their PV plants,” Lan said, “and proper maintenance is crucial to having long-term and stable power generation.”

Prevention is better than cure: O&M services keep PV systems healthy

A PV power plant’s value is determined by its operation reliably. Normally, EPC suppliers offer a limited warranty for their PV systems. After the warranty period, PV plant owners would turn to O&M service providers to ensure their plants maintain stable power output and high ROI rates during their 20-year operation span.

O&M services can be regarded as the “health checkups” for PV systems and they encompass monitoring, cleaning, and repairing. O&M services discover problems that may arise and fix them early on. “Preventive maintenance is the key concept behind O&M services,” said Pan, “since it costs a lot more in time and money to repair a PV system after something has gone wrong.” In early April, Energy Guard will host a workshop in Taiwan’s Kaoshiung City to raise PV system owners’ awareness of the necessity of O&M services.

According to Lan, Engergy Guard’s main customers are local mid and large-scale PV power plants ranging from 100kW to MW-size. “These plants are owned by large companies and pay greater attention to the quality of O&M,” Lan noted. “Energy Guard has the strong foundation and the sufficient capital to provide these professional services.”

In the interview, Lan specifically pointed to how electronic equipment such as inverter is important to the operation of a PV system. In addition to cleaning PV modules, Energy Guard O&M services include checking and cleaning DC combiner boxes; an inspection of the AC or distribution end; and an inspection of high-voltage equipment. Energy Guard thus covers all aspects of monitoring and maintenance.

PV power plants in Taiwan usually do not go beyond 10MW in scale, so this raises question of whether they are simpler to maintain and operate. Pan said the reality is exactly the opposite. He explained since the island is small and densely populated, Taiwan’s installation locations are very diverse – from skyscrapers’ rooftops, coastal areas, and to agricultural facilities like pig farms and green houses. Thus, the maintenance needs of PV systems on the island vary greatly. For examples, PV systems on farm buildings are exposed to hydrogen sulfide (that is corrosive) and also susceptible to rat infestations; whereas those installed along the coast are threatened by salt sprays. Every kind of PV systems requires a specific and comprehensive service plan in order to achieve the best profit.

Monitoring is the eye of O&M

Energy Guard recognizes that an effective monitoring system is the foundation of a professional O&M plan. Besides on-site inspections by engineers, Energy Guard also monitors its client PV installations through a cloud-based monitoring system, which has three main features:

  1. The monitor program is internally developed by the company, which has the best understanding of the system and is able to customize it per clients’ requests or the state of the power plant.
  2. The monitoring program is priced competitively for plants ranged from 500kW to MW-scale.
  3. It is completely on the Cloud. Instead of spending resources on maintaining its own servers, Energy Guard rents storage and platform from reputable cloud service enterprises such as Microsoft and Google. The collected data are well encrypted and can be later used to adjust and balance power distribution from regional grids.

Energy Guard’s monitor system collects data from inverters and stores them in a temporary data collector before uploading them to the cloud (inverter →data collector →cloud). The data collector lets engineers view information off-line, so they can immediately diagnose and fix problems on-site. More importantly, Energy Guard’s proprietary monitor system is compatible with all brands of inverters that are on the market. Other O&M providers do not have this advantage.

Energy Guard lets clients choose to either get just the monitoring service or the monitoring plus management package. The first plan allows clients to monitor their power plants via cloud, and if they need O&M services they can contact Energy Guard. The second plan lets Energy Guard watch and manage the power plants on behalf of their clients. Management entails engineers actively checking the state of power plants provide cleaning and maintenance when needed. Pan recommends clients choose the second plan. “As Energy Guard’s O&M services involve conducting routine inspections and providing review reports,” Pan explained, “it is even more time and cost-effective if our engineers are already authorized by clients to manage their plants.”

When it comes to O&M, Energy Guard has the right tools to get the job done. In addition to infrared thermography, ohmmeter, and power quality analyzer, Lan stated that the company is planning to procure more testing instruments. Moreover, Energy Guard’s professional and experienced engineers can identify potential troubles and immediately provide solutions to optimize a plant’s power generation.

A leader in Taiwan’s O&M services in capital and technology

Cleaning is another important part of O&M services for PV systems. Besides having a qualified cleaning team with proper tools, Energy Guard is presently assessing the possibility of procuring robots for cleaning PV modules.

“Energy Guard has the capital to get more advanced equipment and we have made this kind of investments very early on,” said Lan. “Also with an excellent team of engineers, our company aims to become the pioneering brand in Taiwan’s O&M services.”

Lan added, “Through the workshop we have organized, we wish to remind people of the necessity of professional O&M services to a PV power plant. For plant owners, adequate investment in O&M services is cost-effective in the long run since maintenance reduces the chances of stops in operation and related losses in ROI rates.”

Looking forward to the future, Energy Guard’s main goal for short and medium-term is to develop local services in Taiwan. According to Taiwan Power Company’s statistics, PV installation on the entire island will reach 600MW by the end of 2015. Energy Guard projects to secure O&M contracts for about 60MW equivalent of PV systems. Moreover, the company will introduce its complete O&M service package to its clients whose inverters are no longer under warranty. In sum, Energy Guard’s initial target for O&M market share gain is 20%, or around 120MW.

At the same time, Energy Guard will also continue to develop and improve its software and hardware. Pan revealed that the company is currently doing R&D on synchronizing data between cloud and mobiles. This program would help the engineering team to have instant communication among team members and allows for rapid response during maintenance and management operation. These activities show that Energy Guard is always preparing for the future and reflects the company’s attitude of striving for excellence.

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