Operations and Maintenance (O&M) is a topic we are very passionate about at North Star Solar. As long term owners of rooftop solar PV assets; along with our partner social landlord’s we want the highest performance from roofs.
This starts from the get-go. Panels have to come from Tier 1 manufacturers, the largest solar panel manufacturing companies which devote resources to R&D as well as most likely to be around in 25 years’ time – otherwise there is no point having a 25 year manufacturers warranty in the first place. For anyone considering installing solar PV on rooftops we feel installing panels from these manufacturers is a must. Like all things in life you get what you pay for.
Panels also have to be optimised. Traditional panels work like Christmas tree lights, if one fails they all stop working. While fine if the panels are in fields and are easily accessible by engineers, on roofs it is different as you need scaffolding to get to them. If an optimised panel fails all the others remain working at maximum efficiency.
Also roofs have inherent shading issues from objects such as chimneys. If a panel is shaded, using traditional panels they all work to the efficiency of the shaded panel. So the output from a roof installed with traditional panels will NEVER perform optimally. Optimised panels let the other non-shaded panels on the roof operate at 100% efficiency. We think optimised panels on rooftops is truly a necessity.
North Star insists on installing optimised panels and we find it peculiar our competitors installing free solar PV do not believe this is so important. Compare us to others offering free solar PV and ask if they intend to install optimised panels? They cost more but we feel they are well worth the extra cost. Their reply will most probably be no, and they’ll provide a flimsy excuse why optimised panels are not necessary, but in reality they are. It is obvious really why a rooftop installation needs optimised panels.
The real reason those using bank finance cannot afford optimised panels is because this form of financing is very expensive as the banks take a fat layer of [unnecessary] fees. We circumvent paying these fees by going directly to pension funds for financing which means we can afford to pay more for materials (and for labour installing the roofs). Our financing is the lowest in the industry enabling us to install solar PV on 100% of roofs in any portfolio. A portfolio in Aberdeen suits us perfectly. Quite simply we feel anything less than 100% of roofs installed with solar PV creates problems both for the social landlord and the community. It does not provide a satisfactory solution.
So what happens next after the roofs are installed? Like everything in life technology needs constant monitoring. The traditional method of finding faults on rooftop solar PV installations is to look at the utility bill and see the credit to the utility bill, has it changed or stopped? There has to be something better than this, we live in a world of technology after all.
At North Star we check the output from each panel in real-time to an irradiation data base providing us with accurate irradiation anywhere in the UK accurate to within 90 metres. To monitor roofs we need broadband connectivity and we pay for this bandwidth for each individual roof. Others sometimes try and piggy-back off of the residents own broadband – which is fine if residents have broadband but many do not have any, nationally only 37% of social residents have broadband.
This is why we can offer residents free broadband as we do not use all the bandwidth we pay for. So we have an entirely free, full workable solution for digital inclusion. And it means we spot faults before anyone else, right down to which individual panels is faulty. This information is given to the installer or the social landlord if they wish to handle repairs themselves, and the fault is rectified. Its simple, clean and efficient.
We think this is the best model for rooftop solar PV O&M and make no charge for this service. Its entirely free to our social landlord partners as we have this platform already built. Others charge for O&M but we take the view with cloud costs so low it should be a free, free for 20 years at least.
The last point to ask other installing free solar PV is what share of revenues will they pay you the social landlord? Who owns the roofs anyway? We share and find others generally try and avoid answering this question. We believe in full transparency.
North Star Solar Ltd.