Renewables, Solar, Strategic Development, World Regions

Unplanned solar repairs to cost industry $16bn over next six years

Annual solar plant operations and maintenance (O&M) costs will grow from nearly $4.5bn in 2019 to just over $9bn in 2024, an increase spurred by future demand growth and current installed capacity. Furthermore, unplanned repairs could cost owners up to $3,000/MW/year, according to new research from Wood Mackenzie.

The global solar markets are continuing to grow, reaching a projected new annual high of 114.5 GW in 2019 – up 18% from the previous year. As emerging markets begin to deliver results, annual installations will reach 120-125 GW in the early 2020s and global cumulative solar PV installations are expected to grow from 500 GWdc in 2018 to 1,243 GWdc by 2024.

Solar installations nearing inverter end of life will reach 21 GW by the end of 2019, representing 3.4 per cent of the global market, a figure that will increases to more than 14 per cent over the following five years. By 2024, Wood Mackenzie expects the solar industry to have 176 GW of projects with inverters older than ten years.

Despite being the most significant and major component of a solar project, replacement of a solar inverter represents only 12-13 per cent of the average O&M cost of a 50 MW solar power system. By 2024, inverter replacement costs alone will reach nearly $1.2bn out of a total O&M opportunity of $9.4bn. Other areas that have a significant impact on costs are regular preventative maintenance and corrective repairs, representing 35 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.

Digital technology is however impacting the market. According to Leila Garcia da Fonseca, Wood Mackenzie principal analyst: “Solar technology has greatly improved technician utilisation ratios over the last few years. Previously, one technician would be able to service 20 MW of solar capacity. Global downward price pressures have driven the implementation of automated solutions and digital platforms, making it possible for technicians to service from 40 MW-60 MW of solar capacity – more than doubling their efficiency in some cases.

“As asset owners and operators continue to invest in advanced analytics and O&M specific software, and move from more time-consuming methods of spreadsheet-based analytics, operational costs will be reduced and higher data quality achieved,” adds Garcia da Fonseca.

Solar plant management is often erroneously assumed to be simplistic when compared to other generation technologies. Furthermore, many facilities and asset owners are not ready to implement digital solutions even though the future is undoubtedly digital.

“Although a significant portion of solar PV projects have a monitoring system implemented, few are synced in real-time with diagnostics tools in place. Even fewer conduct basic periodical performance assessments. Ideally, asset owners would have all operations running autonomously and linked to an Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP). However, an end-to-end digital platform is not yet a reality. Asset operators might deploy some of the digital solutions available but have yet to use this advanced of a digital ecosystem,” explains Ms. Garcia da Fonseca.