A growing trend towards the deployment of battery storage with PV need not have a significant impact on operations and maintenance (O&M), Solarplaza has learned.

Chip Palombini, leader of the energy storage group at Dynapower, which makes bi-directional inverters for microgrids and solar-plus-battery systems, said the firm had not “seen any need to change” PV O&M schedules to account for batteries. The company usually reviews its inverters once a year, in a visit timed to coincide with annual plant O&M inspections. Storage systems can now last between 15 and 20 years, he said, almost equivalent to the lifespan of the PV plant itself. “What has the biggest impact is the environment,” he commented.

Plants in very harsh or exposed sites, such as on marine shorelines, are likely to require more careful O&M than those in more benign environments, although this applies as much to battery storage facilities as to the rest of the PV plant. Nevertheless, battery systems are already proving themselves in extremely harsh situations. One of Dynapower’s inverters, for example, has been operating in the Antarctic since 2006 as part of a 500 kW, five-minute duration lead-acid energy storage system (ESS) implemented by Xtreme Power for the South Pole Telescope.

Luigi Lanuzza, head of energy storage innovative business opportunities at the solar plant developer Enel Green Power, agreed that deploying storage alongside PV was unlikely to have a major impact on O&M. “The O&M costs for ESS are typically limited, and their execution is not particularly complex thanks to these systems' high levels of modularity, which have many similarities with PV,” he said. “There is an important, specific point regarding operations: storage is actually a powerful tool for our energy managers, and dedicated planning strategies for the resulting renewable-plus-storage plant need to be carefully set up.”

However, Tyler Ogden, research associate at Lux Research in the US, said solar plant developers should be aware that there is considerable variability in O&M depending on the exact nature of the storage used.

“New maintenance procedures are highly dependent on the type of batteries deployed,” he said. “Also variable is the battery lifetime. In some utility-scale installations, on developer installs the solar array and another the storage system. If expertise between the system are not common in an O&M company, high costs may be incurred as additional truck rolls needs to be made in order to maintain two different components of one system.” Nevertheless it appears the scene is set for PV developers to gain increasing experience of battery systems amid growing demand for storage alongside solar plants.

Said Palombini: “We see it working in the Caribbean, such as the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, where energy supply was previously tied to diesel.”

Learn more about the business cases and O&M issues for PV and battery deployment at Monetising Solar + Storage Europe on 3 March 2016 in Milan and the Solar Asset Management North America, on March 16 and 17 in San Francisco, USA.