Solar operations and maintenance (O&M) costs can have a significant impact on the profitability of each project that an installer completes. According to Sunrun, operation accounts for 18% of solar system costs and according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), O&M costs can range from $18-$28/kW/yr. This adds up considering the typical lifespan of the system is 25 years.
To put it into perspective, lifetime O&M expenses for a residential system could be around $7 thousand assuming the site has an installation capacity of 10kW, and energy costs are $0.22/kWh. For a commercial system, lifetime O&M expenses could be about $46 thousand assuming the site has an installation capacity of 100kW, and energy costs are $0.18/kWh.
There are many O&M categories that range from system inspections, module cleaning, and component replacements, to list a few. While some of the operational costs associated with solar are unavoidable, they can be significantly reduced with module-level monitoring. The purpose of this blog is to show how module-level monitoring works and quantify the benefit it can have for installers and their customers.
As mentioned, O&M costs can be expensive especially when they start piling on year after year. According to Fixr, “the average cost of an annual inspection of your rooftop solar panels is typically $150 to $300.” If replacement or repair work is required, the costs could increase to $750 (see Figure 1 for examples). So, every truck roll that monitoring avoids, saves somewhere between $150 and $750.
Module-level monitoring is enabled by Module-Level Power Electronics, or MLPE. When an installer uses MLPE with monitoring capabilities with their installations, they get a digital view of the performance of each module on a mobile app or on a website.
For example, Tigo’s monitoring software called Energy Intelligence (EI) offers:
Let use Tigo’s Energy Intelligence platform (which you can demo anytime) to show how can monitorization help installers save money.
Product disclaimer: The following benefits are specific to Tigo Energy Intelligence monitoring platform and our installers’ experience with it.
With the app, installers can get system level, string level, and module-level visibility into the system and diagnose issues remotely, saving money with fewer truck rolls.
The longer a PV system is active and functioning, the more money both the system owner and installer saves. With monitoring capabilities through an app, installers gain visibility into each module of the system, making their job easier. Installers also get real-time alerts when a performance or safety issue arises so the site can be quickly returned to normal.
System owners love having performance updates on their system to ensure their investment is working properly. With monitoring, installers can get visibility to all their sites from one spot with fleet, system, and module-level performance data. If the system owners are happy that their system is performing well under an installer’s management, they will be more likely to refer them to a friend.
An installer may get a phone call from a concerned homeowner on why their system has low performance with the assumption that some component is broken. Without monitoring, an installer would have to drive to the site to examine the system. Even if nothing needs to be done at the site, it can be a time intensive task to schedule, drive there, access the roof, and diagnose what’s going on. This is why truck rolls on average are so expensive.
With monitoring, installers can check an app and see what is causing the low performance from the palm of their hands. The poor performance could be due to shading instead of a broken component or could be due to numerous issues which the installer can learn in an instant. If we use the NREL data that was mentioned previously, avoiding this truck roll would save the installer on average about $225.
If a truck roll is necessary, with fleet monitoring, installers can map out which sites need maintenance in a geography and batch the site visits. This saves installers time of not having to go back and forth and allows installers to tackle each system performance issue at once rather than accidentally missing a system failure which would require another truck roll.
Installers can also diagnose the issues before going on site allowing them to prepare necessary equipment to avoid extra trips back to the site. This round-trip time savings can save around $150.
Lots of system performance issues can go unnoticed without monitoring such as a failed diode. A failed diode could result in an energy production reduction of about a third of the panel. That could amount to $935 of production loss over 15 years, and over 25 years, that would be about $1,500.
Monitoring is very crucial for installers to utilize in their solar projects to minimize O&M costs and maximize profitability. Not only can it save installers thousands of dollars, but it can save them time allowing them to take on more customers adding to their overall revenues. The benefits of adding monitoring to system buildings greatly outweighs the costs of skipping out on monitoring and is an investment for installers to increase workflow to grow their business. Tigo Energy Intelligence enables fewer truck rolls, early detection, and customizable fleet-wide visibility to maximize the return on investment of installers’ solar projects. Allow monitoring to alleviate some stress – you won’t regret it.
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About the timeline of solar: https://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/pdfs/solar_timeline.pdf
U.S. solar capacity data: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-energy-united-states
Environmental benefits of solar: https://www.seia.org/initiatives/climate-change#:~:text=Through%20Q2%202020%2C%20the%20U.S.,tons%20of%20carbon%20dioxide%20emissions
Global solar capacity data: https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/solar-power-countries-installed-capacity/
TED-Ed: How do solar panels work? https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-do-solar-panels-work-richard-komp#watch
How to read your electricity bill: https://www.aurorasolar.com/blog/reading-your-electricity-bill-a-beginners-guide/