Short History of Solar O&M
Solar operation and maintenance is a relatively new service sector and until about three years ago, few people even those within the solar industry knew it existed or it’s true importance. The solar industry has been brainwashed into believing its own sale’s pitch, that solar panels can operate for 25 years with no maintenance and the rain will keep them clean and operating at peak performance.
What is solar O&M? Solar O&M is actually broken into two categories there is the “Tech O&M” which is used to describe the electrical maintenance which covers preventive and corrective maintenance on items such as wiring, invertors, combiner boxes, etc. Then there is the “Janitorial O&M” (A phrase coined by Solar Maid) which includes items such as panel washing, facility landscaping, security, snow removal, etc. Even with the larger acceptance of the need for solar O&M over the last few years, this is still a very young industry sector and to this day there are still industry hold-outs that refuse to believe this is legitimate expenditure.
When Solar Maid first opened its doors in 2005, our job of selling panel washing services was made more difficult because of this belief that panels washed themselves. I often asked these potential customers “what do you think your car windshield would look like after sitting outside for a year without any cleaning or use of the wipers”? The simple fact is this; window washing is a multi-billion dollar a year business because rain does not keep glass clean and consider that windows are normally vertical as opposed to solar panels which typically sit at an angle providing more surface area for particulates to fall, dry and stick to the glass casing.
Now that the solar industry itself has become more mainstream, so too has the importance of solar O&M. Solar developers across North America are learning a hard lesson, many systems developed prior to 2010 had no budget planned for O&M and the profit/loss statements are being heavily affected and in many cases have been a direct cause for several companies to go bankrupt. Today, you can’t even propose a solar development project without a long term O&M budget built into your cost analysis.
While the solar O&M industry has rapidly expanded in the last two years, the focus for most developers and system mangers is on the Tech O&M with the Janitorial O&M being a small after thought, this too is rapidly changing. The driving factor in any solar development is revenue and developers are quickly learning that while a damaged invertor can reduce efficiency, the biggest efficiency loss is more often than not coming from dirty solar panels.
Solar Maid was the first Janitorial Solar O&M Company in the world and is still by far the largest with over 40 offices in 4 countries servicing everything from residential to utility scale solar projects. We set the safety and procedural protocols for the industry and we continue to keep pace with the changing market place by developing industry specific equipment to help reduce costs. Solar Maid also provides all of their customers with a free Soil Boundary Analysis™ with every cleaning contract to help customer’s better plan their cleaning requirements and increase revenue.
Jay A. Welsh