How reliable does solar PV need to be?
PV Plant downtime is dead time and therefore investors’ eyes light up when we can demonstrate exceptional PV plant uptime performances in capricious environments around the globe. But precisely how reliable does solar PV need to be?
The industry’s aim, for sure, is to compete with traditional non-sustainable energy sources, such as coal and gas, as well as other renewable energy sources such as off-shore wind. Levelised Cost Of Electricity (LCOE) gives us a way to compare the cost effectiveness of each energy source and reliability is a key factor embedded in the calculation. If a PV plant breaks down, the operations and maintenance cost rise and the LCOE is less attractive.
On a more intuitive level, if you ever think about your electricity supply, you never wish to imagine being without it. In the modern world, most of us take electricity for granted and find any power cut rather disconcerting. We like to think of it as a constant flow and so PV plants, being a significant source of electricity, need to better connect with this expectation.
Clearly solar power systems need to be able to withstand prolonged sun exposure. But it is perhaps less well understood that they are also frequently required to endure such adverse elements as extreme heat, bitter cold, high humidity, strong sandstorms, heavy rain, and salt mist.
Consequently, PV components need to be incredibly endurant. With PV plants also often being built in remote, difficult-to-access locations, it is of paramount importance to deploy working components – usually power electronics – that are highly reliable and can function without moving parts that wear out and require replacing on a regular basis.