The benefits of third-party PV site commissioning

By Wayne Williford, VP of Operations, Day Electric

The commissioning of any new solar power generating facility is one of the most important aspects of the project. A project may start with great promise and design, but if it is not executed to completion, we start to face the fear that these projects will not be sustainable for the long-term. Understanding the importance of the process and having the required training, experience, equipment and documentation will mean the difference between a system that meets all expectations over time, or a system that fails them.

PV systems are commissioned in a myriad of different ways. Many systems are closely inspected, analyzed and corrected from design through PTO. Others are constructed using best practices and inspected and corrected along the way. And some are only inspected at completion.

The most important aspect of third-party commissioning is that is done by an experienced company that can deliver the needed data accurately with a report that describes the state of the as-built system and all its components and capabilities. Sometimes new companies, or even some established ones, don’t have the time or experience to deliver a quality report. The build schedule may be very demanding and those technicians and electricians who installed the system may need to relocate to another site quickly. Another scenario could be that the installation team has great experience building and testing the system, but the owner would like an unbiased party to conduct the commissioning to assure that nothing has been overlooked. In any case, third-party commissioning is a valuable option that can help deliver a higher quality final build that the new owners have total confidence in.

As an EPC firm, it’s often a good or mandatory practice to utilize third-party commissioning services so that if warranty issues surface, you have a resource to go back to for assurance, documentation and support. As a company that offers third-party commissioning as well as O&M services, we have seen many sites that have been built to very high standards and commissioned by experienced electricians using a comprehensive and seasoned checklist. These systems tend to produce the expected energy for longer periods and require fewer service calls to maintain it. Conversely, a site that was poorly commissioned often tends to have safety and production issues from the onset and through its entire and usually shortened operational life cycle.

Commissioning checklists often contain some expanded scopes that are above and beyond the standard activities needed to assure the quality and performance of the project. These activities range from helping the designer with feedback on installed equipment to long-term performance testing. Most often, third-party commissioning contractors are qualified and willing to take on these and many other additional scopes of work to help the builder. They can be available long after the site has PTO.

The most important benefit of third-party commissioning is having a dependable and experienced contractor available to help with completing the project, while providing unbiased data and documentation. This is a very important deliverable for utilities, private customers and financiers and can often make the difference with warranty coverage and follow-on contracts.

The quality of solar project commissioning is not only beneficial to all parties involved, but to the industry as a whole. The sustainability of solar relies on the promise that these sites can produce, perform, and be an asset — not a liability — for the long-term. Thus proving that solar energy is a viable energy source and one that is sustainable for generations to come.

Wayne Williford is a seasoned technical expert with skills across a range industries and more than 30 years of experience in testing, deploying and supporting advanced technologies and complex mechanical systems. Wayne is currently VP of operations at Day Electric and has held positions as VP of commercial O&M at Stellar Energy and SunSystem Technology; director of O&M business development at REC Commercial Solar, VP of PV Services Group at Soligent and director of service and warranty at SPG Solar. Williford has managed teams of technicians responsible for servicing and maintaining more than 300 large-scale commercial solar photovoltaic systems.

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