For most, a solar installation is a “set-and-forget” investment, but not always: problems may come up with your system over time, from damaged panels to faulty wiring and more. You may have heard of “operations and maintenance,” or O&M, plans designed to help catch problems as they come up and fix them quickly so you can keep generating free energy from the sun. In this article, we’ll take a look at what O&M providers actually do, different types of monitoring and panel maintenance plans, and who the major providers in the space are.
What are solar O&M providers? Three common types of servicing plans involved in “O&M”
The business of monitoring and servicing solar panel systems is complicated, and handled at several levels by different types of companies. The three key O&M levels to be aware of are dedicated solar O&M plans, inverter monitoring, and installer/contractor servicing.
Dedicated solar O&M providers
The most involved way to approach solar operations and maintenance is with a dedicated solar O&M provider. These are third-party companies–separate from your installer or any equipment manufacturer–that you pay a recurring fee to. In exchange, the company monitors and services your solar panel system to keep it up and running as smoothly as possible.
Under the umbrella of dedicated O&M providers, there are several types of plans you can choose from. Three of the most common plans are preventative plans, corrective plans, and real-time plans. Preventative maintenance plans consist of regularly scheduled inspections of your system to make sure everything is working properly. Corrective plans, on the other hand, focus more on repairs: your O&M provider will only act if they detect a problem with your system, such as a low-producing panel. Lastly, real-time plans use active data monitoring to go beyond reacting to problems and regular servicing – they use their data to predict system breakdowns and then prioritize the right actions and resources to stop problems before they seriously impact your system’s electricity production.
Wondering whether you need an O&M plan? Take a look at this article.
Solar installer O&M services
If you need maintenance performed on your solar panel system, you don’t need a dedicated O&M plan to get it done: oftentimes, you can contact your installation company directly to have your solar panel system serviced and repaired. Depending on the warranties that come with your system, you may be entitled to reduced cost (or even free!) service from your installer should something go wrong.
Importantly, if your original solar installation company is out of business, you won’t be stuck with an inoperational solar panel system: other local installers may offer O&M services for systems that they didn’t originally install. Not all companies offer this kind of service, but those that do can help with any physical repairs for a service fee. Both small, local solar panel installation companies and national installers may work with a dedicated O&M provider to save you the trouble from getting involved in the maintenance of your system.
If your installer doesn’t work directly with a third-party O&M provider, knowing when your system needs work done isn’t always straightforward. This leads us to our third monitoring solution: inverter monitoring.
While not an all-in-one solution for addressing performance issues with your solar panel system, most major solar inverter manufacturers provide built-in solar production monitoring services with their products. You can use this data to understand when your system’s underperforming, and take steps to involve your solar installer (or another local company if your installer is out of business). Companies like Enphase, SolarEdge, and SMA all provide rich data on your system’s production, and you can download their associated mobile app to your phone or tablet to view all your stats at any time.
Inverter monitoring is useful, but unless you are an experienced electrician or solar technician, it can sometimes be difficult to identify and diagnose a system issue solely through your inverter monitoring.
Dedicated solar O&M providers: who are the major players?
While there are many companies offering O&M plans for commercial solar panel installations that require higher levels of maintenance, the residential market is more consolidated. If you’d like a dedicated solar O&M plan, there are two big names to know in the space: SunSystem Technology and Sunup Solar Tech Services.
The leader in the residential O&M space, SunSystem Technology works with solar installation companies as their dedicated O&M partner. They advertise their nationally-deployed technician network as the key in their ability to quickly diagnose and address problems that arise in any solar installation company’s portfolio of residential systems.
SunSystem acquired Next Phase Solar, Enphase’s operations and maintenance division, in late 2016, cementing their place as the market share leader in residential O&M.
Sunup Solar Tech Services
Another leader in the space is Sunup Solar Tech Services. Unlike SunSystem’s model of working through solar installers, Sunup lets residential customers choose directly from three tiers of membership plans, increasing in panel cleaning frequency and troubleshooting services throughout the tiers.
Sunup advertises a variety of services to homeowners, including system repairs, panel washing, monitoring, and general maintenance.
Find the right installer for your solar project on EnergySage
Looking for the right solar panel installation company? EnergySage is here to help – sign up on the EnergySage Marketplace to receive up to seven custom solar-plus-storage quotes from installers near you. If you’re interested in a particular O&M plan, or just want to better understand what each installer is offering in terms of long-term monitoring and maintenance, you can leave a note in your profile or ask installers directly through our messaging system.