Solar operations and maintenance (O&M) packages
Last updated 3/22/2018
Solar operations and maintenance (O&M) packages are protection plans for your solar investment. You can think of them as a sort of “homeowner’s insurance” for your solar panels. If a tree falls on a portion of your house, home insurance plan will likely cover a large portion of the repair costs. The same is true of solar O&M plans.
If your solar system is underperforming, whether as the result of environmental, equipment, or other reasons, your O&M provider can perform physical repairs to your panels, inverters, or whichever portion of your array is affected. Solar operations and maintenance plans will also cover regular checks on your system to confirm that it is operating at peak performance.
Benefits of solar operations and maintenance packages
A strong solar operations and maintenance service package provides many benefits to residential customers. When you’re comparing your options, consider whether the following services are covered:
Site visits. O&M plans should include regular times throughout the year for your provider to come and physically inspect your solar system. From these site visits, your O&M provider will be able to diagnose problems with your system and take action to bring your electricity production back to normal.
Pest control. A common threat to solar systems is pests. Birds and rodents may nest in and around your array, leading to the potential for fires or electrical damage. Critter guards can help to alleviate this issue, but O&M companies often include pest control in their plan to counteract this common solar issue.
Cleaning. Well-designed solar panel systems rarely need cleaning. However, if you live in an area with high amounts of particulates and dust floating around, your O&M provider should clean your panels if they find them losing efficiency due to dust or any other material dirtying your panels.
Electrical systems checks. Damage to the electrical systems connecting your solar array to your home and the grid need to be maintained as well. O&M plans should cover checks to all of your wiring and electrical systems that make sure the energy you produce is being transported and used correctly.
Solar inverter maintenance. Solar inverters (particularly string inverters) have a shorter lifespan than solar panels themselves, and need to be monitored closely for degradation. A good solar O&M plan will pay extra attention to your solar inverters to ensure your panels will be able to convert produced energy to usable electricity.
Hiring solar crew and personnel. In order to complete maintenance projects on your solar array, specialists and panel experts need to work with your system. A good solar O&M plan will find reputable repair crews to keep your panels maintained.
Importance of a solar service package
If your installer is available and you are still covered by their labor warranty, it is always best to first consult them for system maintenance – they know your system and equipment, and have a preexisting relationship with you. Even so, there are a few reasons why you may want to consider a separate O&M package.
Solar installers make their money from an initial installation. As a result, their priority may be focused on working with new customers, whereas a service package prioritizes your already-installed system. For the same reason, solar installers often send their best talent to work on new installations, rather than fix your damaged solar panels or inverters.
In some cases, your local solar installer may have gone out of business, meaning any installations they performed and were still under warranty no longer have a company to service them. Without a solar O&M plan, if your installer goes out of business you may not have an easy way to diagnose and fix issues with your solar array.
Commercial vs. residential O&M plans
Commercial and residential solar panel systems vary in size and in the specifics of the installation. As a result, the logistics behind your O&M plan depend on whether your system is a small-scale rooftop system or large commercial project.
Plans for larger commercial projects tend to focus more on preventative strategies, while rooftop installations are typically more “reactive.” This is due in part to commercial properties being able to handle regular truck visits from solar maintenance crews. Additionally, residential systems are typically much smaller, and in the event of a problem, a small crew can be easily dispatched by an O&M company to repair that system. Conversely, an issue with a commercial system can take up more resources on the service company’s end.