24.10.2018 / Press releases

Technology and digitisation driving O&M efficiencies in renewables

Renewable energy plants require scrupulous operations & maintenance systems to ensure reliable power outputs over the installation’s lifespan. O&M service providers, under pressure to provide a cost efficient service, are increasingly using  technology and digitisation to reduce costs and optimise service delivery. Christos Charalampidis, head of Operation & Maintenance in the EMEA region for juwi, answers questions on best practice in O&M and the technology that’s driving efficiencies in the sector.


How you ensure optimal plant monitoring?

“We do remote monitoring backed up by local, on-site monitoring. For instance, juwi recently established a centralized EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Control Room, which is expected to be in full operation in November 2018. This control room centralises the monitoring of 100% of juwi’s assets in the region, providing multiple levels of protection to ensure that we are not missing anything,” says Charalampidis.

The juwi control room links to existing remote monitoring systems installed in each plant, and Charalampidis says they don’t have to do any adaption: “We use already installed monitoring equipment, hardware and software without having to introduce one more new system and we have a high degree of flexibility,” says Charalampidis.

“Our control room, which is physically located in Athens, Greece, is comprised by a team of engineers who work on shifts. They monitor screens with standardised procedures and processes to check the operation, performance and production of the PV plants in the EMEA region.

 “We use a human interface in the control room because humans are flexible in adapting to different systems. Many of our competitors have tried in very high degree to automate such procedures and use different automated systems or software to do this job but in this case the flexibility is rather low and if something does not work or if change happens and you need to adapt, then problems might occur.   

“It’s simple and it works reliably and we have procedures to eliminate human error. There are different levels of safety incorporated in our processes, so the possibility of an error is practically zero.”


Talk us through your Preventive and Corrective Maintenance

“juwi runs a tight ship for preventative maintenance with standardized processes, incorporating a Facility Operating Plan for each individual plant, a Task Work Order system and detailed checklists.

 “We have people on site that do preventive maintenance on a monthly basis using the  Facility Operating Plan, which is a schedule of all the actions which need to be done on  a daily resolution, says Charalampidis.

“Our Task Work Order system monitors each item of work and highlights if something drops below the time schedule or if more effort/resources are needed on a certain plant.

“All works requiring outage of power units are done outside production hours - not many O&M providers will perform maintenance after hours, but it is key in avoiding energy losses.”

Charalampidis says that effective O&M requires meticulously laid out procedures and method statements for each item of work, and everything must be pre-approved by engineers. “We register and track all incidents and follow up repairs on a database system. Flash and Incident Reports are also issued.”


Health & Safety plays a major role in O&M – how do you manage this?

“Most of our customers and in general, most of the plant owners are really concerned about health and safety. Obviously, they want to minimise any risk. We have fully authorised persons in each site, who are fully trained and qualified to do all the actions on site, including high voltage switching,” says Charalampidis.

“We utilise the buddy system, all maintenance work has a team of at least two persons. One of them does the work, the other checks if everything is good. Four eyes are better than two.    
“We use a process whereby a Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) matrix is completed  before the commencement of works, to identify and mitigate risks. Other safety measures include: ensuring that all switching procedures are only performed or supervised by authorized persons, having full and appropriate PPE available at all sites and using “Lock Out Tag Out” procedures.

“In addition we run regular HSE training programmes and run regular HSE site audits, both internal and external ones.”

juwi meets rigorous health and safety standards and meets the accreditation of OHSAS 18001. Charalampidis explains: “It’s not only the compliance; we are actually above and beyond acceptable standards. We have a very good track record – no near misses, no accidents. We take quite a lot of credit from our customers regarding our health and safety approach.”


What other technical innovations has juwi adopted for its O&M offering?

“In South Africa and other locations, we are implementing aerial thermography of the whole plant; this is an efficient way to pick up shortfalls,” says Charalampidis.

“The thermography is done using drones with thermal cameras on them.  We analyse the findings and we pick up any issues. If we were to do this process manually, it could take months to complete for large plant. This method of investigation has already been used for several years, but not many O&M operators use it on a wide scale. Many of them do it manually or don’t do it at all. We do additional thermographic inspection of the inverters and DC boxes, manually on the ground.”

“In addition, juwi does I-V curve or/and Electro Luminance testing of modules, to find any underperforming modules,” adds Charalampidis.


You’ve introduced Soiling Measurement, what does it involve?

“We have started in Prieska, currently our biggest plant we’re operating in South Africa, to do some soiling measurements - we are trying to measure the actual level of dust on the surface of the PV panels. We have just ordered sophisticated equipment for soiling measurement, which we are awaiting delivery on. I believe this equipment will be above market standards, and it will be interesting to see the impact of this data in improving plant efficiencies.”


Are you looking at auto cleaning of panels?

“In South Africa there are regulations that require us to employ a certain number of staff on site in order to fulfill our economic development requirements. Therefore it’s not in our interests to consider automated or robotic cleaning. We have an obligation to use local people and we want to fulfil this obligation,” says Charalampidis.


In conclusion

“The most important point is that we are maintaining our record of 365 days full coverage, zero undetected incidents, and a fast response time on our sites - that’s what O&M needs to achieve high KPIs, way above the minimum contractual requirements,” concludes Charalampidis.


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