The photovoltaic industry and RES in general are entering a new era of maturity. Until a few years ago, investments in RES were based on government subsidies, which especially in the early days were quite generous, offering high returns to the first investors of this new, unknown sector. With the development of technology and the increase in production volume worldwide, costs have decreased dramatically and simultaneously (or at least with some time lag) the financial incentives offered by various governments have also decreased. Today, PV is the most cost competitive electricity generation technology without any government subsidy, especially in countries with abundant sunshine like Greece.
Moving up the learning curve, PV has now gained its place in the power generation mix, competing with conventional fuel technologies. Sizes have multiplied (from a few tens of kW to hundreds of MW) and investment return has decreased, as it is based on competitive participation in the energy market without subsidies. The investors of “mega projects” are mainly utilities, international funds and institutional investors, who are required to manage large investments with geographical spread, possibly with different business models and technological diversity, without necessarily having the required know-how. For many, the photovoltaic plant is now an investment product. In a regime where energy sales prices are now determined by competitive processes or by market rules through bilateral contracts (PPAs) and the duration of contracts can be very close to the payback period of the investment, the optimal performance of a PV installation matters much more than it did in the past.
This need is met by the Asset Manager, who creates added value for the investor, taking over the management on his behalf. By providing the right services, the asset manager can guarantee the maximization of financial and technical performance throughout the project’s life cycle and achieve the following objectives:
1. Increase of performance
2. Reduction of operating costs
3. Financial restructuring
4. Renegotiation of contracts in favor of the investor
5. Technological Upgrades
6. Human resource management
7. Health and safety system management
8. Environmental management
Asset Management is significantly different from the operation and maintenance (O&M) of a solar plant. Management is about the investment (the company – SPV), not just the installation, from design and development to construction, operation and end-of-life of the project, even the recycling of materials. The long life cycle of assets (30+ years) requires a comprehensive, long-term planning approach. Each asset also has unique characteristics and needs, which may require a different management approach. Best international management practices should form the basis of the asset management framework applied to each portfolio with the necessary adjustments.
An integral part of the evolution of Asset Management is the adoption of quality systems and digital tools. The ISO 55001 standard for asset management was published in 2014. However, there are very few management service providers certified to this standard. Quality systems are the backbone of any standardization and in the management field they indicate the internal transformation that service providers should follow, to optimize their own processes and offer consistent service quality.
At the same time, the adaptation of digital tools and information management systems contributes to the optimal provision of services. With the right tools, information gaps are avoided, which limit the potential for strategic, long-term planning and delivering added value to investors.
It is no coincidence that, as Europe moves towards the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and prepares to reach TW of installed capacity this decade, the Solar Quality Summit Europe was organized in January 2023 in Barcelona. The conference has allowed the exchange of views between managers, investors, manufacturers and service providers regarding the best practices in construction, operation, maintenance and asset management, identifying the challenges as well as new technologies and trends to achieve their goals .
Dr. Alexandros Zachariou, PV Consultant, Greensolver Business Development, Greece