Operation &Maintenance

Best Practice Guidelines South Africa edition

Foreword Welcome to the South Africa edition of the Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Best Practice Guidelines. Building on Version 4.0 of SolarPower Europe’s O&M Best Practice Guidelines, this edition is adapted to the South African context. It is a joint effort between SolarPower Europe and several solar PV experts active in South Africa and supported by GIZ SAGEN and SAPVIA, the South Africa PV Association. South Africa has the continent’s most developed PV market. As its fleet of power plants age, proper “health care” is becoming an increasingly important aspect when looking to consistently meet performance expectations. Today, O&M has become a standalone segment within the solar industry, with an increasing number of solar companies in South Africa providing specialised services. Yet there are still significant quality discrepancies between services from different providers. To address these challenges, SolarPower Europe joined forces with SAPVIA, supported by the South African –
German Energy Programme (SAGEN), funded by the German Ministry of Economic Development and
Cooperation, and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, to develop the South African edition of the O&M Best Practice Guidelines. Our joint South African-European O&M taskforce was launched in April 2021, assembling 39 leading solar experts from South Africa and Europe. The kick-off meeting was followed by a series of online working meetings, in which we updated Version 4.0 of SolarPower Europe’s O&M Best Practice Guidelines to reflect the market and business conditions in South Africa. The result is a guide that we hope will help South African solar stakeholders improve the quality of the O&M segment. This document is aimed at O&M service providers, as well as other parties involved in the operation of solar power plants, such as owners and investors, lenders, technical advisors, and data-related service providers. It will help establish common standards and increase transparency in the sector. It is also worth noting that solar O&M is especially value intensive as a segment, supporting many local jobs, and driving important solar innovations, notably in the field of digitalisation.

Introduction According to SolarPower Europe’s market data, the South African market reached GW-scale as early as in 2016 and the cumulative installed capacity is due to rise to over 4.5GW in 2021, under a business-as-usual scenario. This makes it comfortably Africa’s most established and largest solar market. As its fleet of power plants age, the industry has realised that proper “health care” is indispensable for power plants to meet performance expectations. Today, O&M has become a standalone segment within the solar industry, with an increasing number of solar companies in South Africa providing specialised services. Yet there are still significant quality discrepancies between services from different providers.

Best practices describe a method or technique that is generally accepted as superior to any other alternative method or technique to attain a certain result. Therefore, best practices may exceed the minimum requirements expressed in standards. The benefit of adopting best practices by consistent application typically result in lower cost over the entire cycle, even though the initial cost to implement best practices may come along at a premium. In particular, adhering to best practices is (1) an effective element in risk management and (2) can result in significant yield optimizations.

Definitions This section introduces a basic set of definitions of important terms that are widely used in the O&M field (contracts) and is necessary for all different stakeholders to have a common understanding. In general, there are standards in place that explain some of these terms, however, it is still difficult in practice to agree on the boundaries of those terms and what exactly is expected under these terms or services (e.g., the different types of maintenances or operational tasks).

Environment, Health & Safety The Asset Owner has the ultimate legal and moral responsibility to ensure the health and safety of people in and around the solar plant and for the protection of the environment around it. The practical implementation is normally subcontracted to the O&M service provider. Environmental Responsibilities Renewable energies are popular because of their low environmental impact, and it is important that solar plants are operated and maintained to minimise any adverse effects. Environmental problems can normally be avoided through proper plant design and maintenance – for example, bunds and regular inspection of HV transformers will reduce the chances of significant oil leaks – but where issues do occur the O&M service provider must detect them and respond promptly. Beyond the environmental damage there may be financial or legal penalties for the owner of the plant. Legal obligations, in South Africa among others the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA), to be fulfilled by the O&M service provider (or the Technical Asset Manager) may include long-term environmental requirements to be implemented either onsite or off-site. Typical requirements can be amongst others water tank installation, tree clearing, drainage systems installation, amphibian follow-up, edge plantation, reptile rock shelters installation. Often, O&M service providers are required to comply with the Equator Principles. Such requirements should be implemented and managed by the O&M service provider to comply with the authorisation. As a best practice, the O&M service provider’s environmental preservation activities can go beyond legal obligations. If projects are funded by third party debt or equity finance, O&M service providers are required to comply with the Equator Principles2 or a similar environmental and social risk management framework.

Personnel & training, social embeddedness It is of critical importance that all O&M personnel have the relevant qualifications to perform the works in a safe, responsible and accountable manner. This can be a challenge in emerging markets and in certain rural areas in South Africa, as the necessary technical skills to execute quality O&M services are not always available. To address the lack of skills, standard trainings can be relied upon. Such trainings are already provided in a number of African countries by public training institutes and international organisations. It is difficult to define exactly the suitable employee profile to carry out the work, but in general, it is not advisable to be rigid in the necessary requirements. The necessary knowledge and experience can be gained through career development and through different engagements. The solar industry benefits from a wide range of skills and experience. Team members with a range of electrical, mechanical, financial, business and communications skills are required to handle different tasks and all of them strengthen the positive impact of the service provision.

Power Plant Operation Power Plant Operation is about remote monitoring, supervision and control of the PV power plant (in South Africa, mode controls such as voltage, reactive power or power factor control are required). It also involves subcontracting and coordination of maintenance activities. Power Plant Operation used to be a more passive exercise in the past, but with increasing grid integration efforts, more active and flexible operation will be required by grid operators. Examples include ordered shutdowns, power curtailment, frequent adjustment of settings such as power factor (source reactive power), frequency tolerances, and voltage tolerances. This section gives an overview of the operation tasks and requirements. As explained in the Introduction, in the South African context, especially in the C&I and residential segments, all aspects of O&M are assumed by the installer – including Power Plant Operation. Figure 4 on pages 44 and 45 provides an overview of the most important tasks associated with power plant operation.

The documentation set accompanying the solar PV plant should, as a best practice, contain the documents described in Annex c. The IEC 62446 standard can also be considered to cover the minimum requirements for as-built documentation. In general, for optimum service provision and as a best practice, the O&M service provider should have access to all possible documents (from the project development, EPC and commissioning phase s, as well as handovers). The Site Operating Plan is the comprehensive document prepared and provided by the plant EPC service provider, which lays out a complete overview of the plant location, layout, electrical diagrams, components in use and reference to their operating manuals, EH&S rules for the site and certain further topics. All detailed drawings from the EPC service provider need to be handed over to the O&M service provider and be stored safely for immediate access in case of PV plant issues or questions and clarifications with regards to permits and regulation.

For small to medium C&I and residential solar parks simplified procedures could be applied to plant performance monitoring and supervision activities. The Fault management could be performed on daily basis introducing a classification of alarms by priority, for exmple, with respect to rated power out of service. Depending on the level of development of the local O&M market, it is also suggested to consider the opportunity to provide during the execution phase a first level maintenance training to local personnel eventually involved in the project. During the operation phase these local resources could be able (at least) to manage the first level troubleshooting and the small repairs, and so reduce the time it takes to intervene and restore production capacities. Such kind of approach could also support the development of the local O&M market. O&M service providers for small to medium C&I and residential solar parks with larger portfolios might optimise their organisation by including cooperation with those local suppliers.

Data & monitoring requirements In general, the monitoring system should allow followup on the energy flows within a solar power plant or portfolio of (small) installations. In principle, it reports on the parameters that determine the energy conversion chain. These parameters, along with the most important energy measures in terms of yields and losses, are illustrated in the following figure. These yields and losses are always normalised to installed PV power at standard test conditions in kilowatt-peak (kWp) for ease of performance comparison.

The fundamentals pertaining to the smart monitoring of commercial and industrial PV power plants versus the smart monitoring of large-scale PV power plants are exactly the same. Greater deployment of machine learning, artificial intelligence and lower-cost data loggers, together with their ever-increasing capabilities, and decreasing internet prices throughout South Africa has resulted in smaller C&I sites being able to be monitored in a similar manner as large-scale utility PV power plants. There has been a rapid increase in the number of PV plants on C&I sites in South Africa. It is now common that the same solar project company or developer has deployed PV on multiple C&I sites across the same city. Often similar equipment is used on multiple C&I sites. This phenomenon has created an opportunity to achieve greater efficiencies through a further advance of smart monitoring on these PV power plants.

The advantages of the measurement technique that it is non-destructive, fast and quantitative (the measurement signal is proportional to the underlying electric current). A disadvantage of using magnetic fields is that the distance to the sample must be low, in the millimeter range, to result in high quality imaging results. The measurement cannot resolve microscopic structures (< 100 µm), yet.

Contractual framework This section contains a set of considerations for the contractual framework of O&M services for the small, medium and large-scale C&I and utility scale segment. For a simplified contractual framework, see section 14.4. Contractual recommendations for standalone PV systems. A complement to the technical specifications detailed in the previous chapters, the contractual framework described in this chapter are considered as a best practice.

Innovations and trends O&M service providers are increasingly relying on innovations and more machine and data-driven solutions to keep up with market requirements. Innovations in O&M services are anticipated to reduce the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) by 0.8% to 1.4% between 2015 and 2030. The savings are dominated by improvements in OPEX and power plant availability, and hence net Annual Energy Production (source: KIC InnoEnergy, 2015).

Operational costs of PV plants can have a significant impact on the total LCOE and therefore, on the profitability of a project. Optimisation of operation quality, reducing maintenance costs and maximising plant performances, is the key for a successful project. This process goes through a trade-off between reducing the number of interventions and spare parts replacement during the lifetime of a project while ensuring the plant performs in the best conditions.

of PV inverters, it is still uncertain what their actual lifetime will be under site specific operating conditions. In practice, inverters will not fail at a precise given moment in time as often modelled in the business plan. Moreover, failure-based maintenance i.e., replacing the inverter(s) when this fails may not be the most efficient solution. A good predictive monitoring system could help on assessing the optimal hardware replacement cycle by modelling the uncertainty in the time-to-failure with a known probability distribution function. Maintenance optimisation models can provide tools relying on the output from root cause analyses, remaining useful lifetime analyses and alerting and prediction of assets failures in the optimal planning of maintenance and related resource allocation.

Executive summary South Africa is Africa’s largest PV market by far and reached GW-scale in 2016. In 2020 the country’s solar capacity stood at 3.7 GW and is expected to increase to just over 10 GW by 2025, according to SolarPower Europe’s business-as-usual scenario. As its fleet of power plants begin to age, proper “health care” is becoming increasingly important and will be vital in maintaining confidence in solar PV as a long-term, sustainable solution to the country’s energy demand. Operation and Maintenance (O&M) has become a standalone segment within the solar industry, and it is widely acknowledged by all stakeholders that high-quality O&M services mitigate potential risks, improve the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) and Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) prices, and positively impact the return on investment (ROI). Responding to the discrepancies that exist in the country’s current solar O&M market, the South Africa edition of the O&M Best Practice Guidelines makes it possible for all to benefit from the experience of leading South African and European experts in the sector, and increase the level of quality and consistency in O&M. These Guidelines are meant to be used by O&M service providers as well as installers, owners, investors, financiers, monitoring tool providers, technical consultants and all interested stakeholders in South Africa. In this edition, the requirements presented in SolarPower Europe’s O&M Best Practice Guidelines Version 4.0 have been adapted to match the South African market context. One such example is the inclusion of O&M best practices for smaller Commercial and Industrial (C&I) installations, in the 100s of kW scale, in these Guidelines.


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