[4:30 PM Thursday 20th October 2016] Session on O&M at Intersolar Mumbai.
The fundamental difference in the approach to O&M in conventional thermal projects and in solar PV projects is that for Solar, the fuel costs are NIL and therefore controlling and bringing down O&M costs directly reduces the cost per unit of electricity generated. This is a stark contrast to thermal and gas power plants, where the O&M budget is dominated by fuel costs so much that manpower costs do not matter so much.
Though IEC standards are commonly referred for all the equipment that goes into any solar PV plant, the IEC 61724 Standard is seldom referred for data acquisition, analytics and plant performance monitoring. Interestingly, this IEC standard does not mention the word ‘SCADA’ which strangely in the Indian solar industry has become synonymous with performance monitoring.
It is now being seen that the performance issues at some of the operating Indian solar plants are sufficiently alarming to demand an urgent focus on adoption of best practices and guidelines from matured markets, especially in view of the huge growth targets.
The three necessary elements, from an O&M perspective, that will support the targeted solar growth in India, are:
- robust data acquisition and performance monitoring which are essentially the eyes and ears of the solar plant
- training of manpower in performance monitoring and operations management who will constitute the brains of the solar plant
- disciplined approach to O&M through industry wide adoption of standards and best practices guidelines
An O&M practice built on these foundational elements can create value addition to the PV assets because good O&M, be it in-house or outsourced, can become a ‘profit center’ rather than a ‘cost center’. Currently in India, costs of plant security and technical manpower constitute 30 to 40% of the O&M cost which with 5% y-o-y growth over the lifecycle, amounts to more than 15% of the capex of the plant and deserves the same top management attention bestowed on equivalent capex expenditures.