The availability of technology in the solar industry today enriches plant performance and operations in various ways. Technology has become particularly effective in one key area: field service. How? Technology puts more power into the hands of integrators, owners, and operators. Thanks to self-solve features and other available tools, customers can cut costs and handle some maintenance by leveraging manufacturer supplied resources and their own highly skilled expertise.
In recent months, technology has helped transform field service for SMA customers in multiple ways. First, at SMA we recently released a new field service mobile app. The app allows residential and commercial photovoltaic (PV) installers to access up-to-date system information, obtain quick error analysis, and get more timely assistance with repairs.
The SMA Service Mobile App ultimately makes the day-to-day life for installers much easier. In the field, the last thing installers need is a time-consuming phone call or a lack of resources to do their job. The new SMA app, for that reason, offers practical solutions and documentation for relevant SMA products. For example, an installer can enter an error code and an intuitive fault analysis tool on the app will give recommendations and solutions to troubleshoot the problem. The app also guides installers, when needed, through the step-by-step process of replacing inverter components. In addition, the app also works both offline and online, ensuring that it is helpful to installers and service technicians even when they are in remote locations.
For large-scale solar, SMA has also introduced the Virtual Support App. This powerful field service assistant helps technicians onsite locate components through an augmented reality environment. Using a smartphone or tablet, a local servicer can get information on fault identification and instructions for replacing specific parts. Alongside, to standard documentation, users can also navigate the inside of the inverter with augmented reality, highlighting the parts in question and accessing video to make servicing simple. This cutting-edge approach to large scale service support was lauded at this year’s Solar Power International as one of the show’s top inverter-based innovations.
We make it a priority to be on top of the latest developments and tools, ensuring we can better serve our customers and technicians in the field
Both remedies reduce the need for time consuming service calls. Service professionals can access the apps on their own schedule to get help with troubleshooting right in the field. Service can become proactive and scheduled in accordance with an owner or operator’s service model rather than dictated by the hours and availability of a manufacturer’s contact center.
Talking service technology one step further, SMA is also using automated data analysis to remotely monitor, troubleshoot, and even replace faulty inverters and inverter components. SMA Smart Connected leverages the data supplied by Sunny Portal–the world’s largest PV monitoring repository–to receive inverter data and offer proactive servicing. Based on the experience of more than 75 GW of installed capacity, SMA Smart Connected reviews inverter data including error codes and proactively notifies the owner or operator of needed servicing. In the event that an inverter needs replacement, a new device can be shipped to site before an onsite technician is even aware of an issue. This both reduces downtime and can cut truck rolls in half by eliminating the need for a diagnostic trip, saving the plant servicer value time.
Other technology that has transformed field operations is the use of drones and aerial thermography for commercial, utility, and storage installations. This groundbreaking development has completely changed the old model. In the past, a person had to physically go look for hot spots within a PV array. Now, drones can be deployed to fly over a project and take thermal readings from the air.
We have team members certified in using this precise, cutting-edge technology to maintain smooth operations for customers. A properly maintained solar system can, after all, increase yields by as much as 30 percent and accelerate return on investment. With aerial thermography, maintenance can be even more accurate, faster, and costeffective than in the past.
We have FFA-certified experts on staff to make aerial thermography available through our plant wide operations and maintenance services. That’s been a game-changer since the aerial thermography can detect issues down to the cell level. What’s more, identifying any hot spots can often indicate larger issues or future concerns. With the use of drones and aerial thermography, an operations professional can now significantly reduce the time spent identifying and diagnosing the problems. Perhaps most importantly, the technology allows us to address issues in a timely manner so that we can stay focused on getting systems back up and running quickly.
Regardless of the size of your plant or the role it serves, proper maintenance, and quick troubleshooting are key priorities when you want to maximize energy production and protect your investments in PV. While today it’s an app, drones and aerial thermography enhancing the way we service customers and improving our ROI, technology will only continue to develop in the solar industry. That’s why we make it a priority to be on top of the latest developments and tools, ensuring we can better serve our customers and technicians in the field.