As utilities contemplate ownership of both central and distributed solar-based generation, they will be confronted by relatively newfound system performance, reliability, and asset management priorities. Power purchase agreements (PPAs), the dominant utility approach to obtain solar energy so far, place performance risk entirely on third party providers and, in turn, insulate utilities from production-related shortfalls and associated cost-benefit considerations. Becoming an asset owner, however, will demand that utilities institute best of breed operations and maintenance (O&M) practices to minimize plant downtime, prompt greater output, and cost effectively realize faster investment returns. In short, PV asset ownership shifts the financial onus onto utilities.

Contrary to popular belief, PV power plants are not maintenance free; they require a regimen of continual monitoring, periodic inspection, scheduled preventive maintenance, and service calls. These actions address unplanned outages, repair and restart, and various O&M activities needed to enhance long term uptime, performance, and economic viability. Though PV O&M practices are still emerging and evolving, a number of utilities and third party service providers are working on these practices and developing a better sense of what level is required for system- and site-specific costs and benefits.

EPRI conducted in-depth telephone and in-person interviews with a cross section of subject matter experts to discern the current level of knowledge surrounding the operation and maintenance of distributed PV plants, reliability experience, and expected future approaches to managing expanding PV system assets....( Read more...)