SMA hits 1 GW O&M landmark

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German inverter manufacturer SMA Solar Technology has announced today that it has accrued 1 GW in operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts globally in the space of just over one year.

Since launching its plant-wide O&M service at the end of 2013, SMA has developed a portfolio covering 840 MW of operational management contracts in North America, with an additional 180 MW in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

A large portion of SMA’s North American O&M operations is comprised of two utility-scale PV systems in Canada – the 140 MW Kinston Solar project and the 130 MW Grand Renewable Solar power plant. Both installations are located in the province of Ontario and are powered by SMA Sunny Central Inverters. With a large installed base across the U.S. and Europe, SMA is planning on expanding its O&M services by leveraging its service expertise and logistical capacities.

"We built our plant-wide O&M product on the success of our already top-ranked service portfolio, which has become the gold standard in the solar industry," said SMA CEO Pierre-Pascal Urbon. "In the short time since SMA launched its O&M services, we’ve been entrusted with some of the largest PV power plants in the world.

"Reaching the global milestone of more than 1 GW of O&M signals SMA’s investment in this key market and is a clear indicator of the company’s leading status as an O&M provider."

In the summer of 2014 SMA acquired Phoenix Solar AG’s European O&M business in a move designed to expand its O&M capabilities in Europe. The acquisition gave the inverter supplier operational management of established solar plants in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, furthering its O&M presence in some of Europe’s leading PV markets.

In providing after-sales care and service, SMA has developed a three-tier level of support, which covers Preventative, Proactive and Performance. The company also offers a more bespoke service that can be tailored to the individual needs of the customer, SMA confirmed.

Wider benefits of O&M

SMA’s latest financial reports made for bleak reading, as did the news that the company is to cut almost one-third of its global workforce by the summer. The price pressures of the inverter landscape have made it difficult for companies such as SMA to maintain market dominance, which is why SMA’s move into the O&M inverter space is seen as a positive – if necessary – step to make.

"O&M is another source of revenue for large inverter suppliers like SMA, who have a large installed base in their key markets of the U.S. and Germany," IHS solar analyst Cormac Gilligan told pv magazine. "Other suppliers such as Advanced Energy have been active in the O&M space for a number of years now, and Enphase recently acquired an O&M provider in the U.S."

Gilligan added that a key benefit of a robust O&M presence is the chance to offer customers a "cradle-to-grave" service, which will enable SMA to be instrumental in the overall success of the PV plant – from production to monitoring, performance and maintenance.

"A lot of customers – including banks and investors – are now requesting more granular data in order to ensure the viability of projects," said Gilligan. "By providing O&M services, SMA can flag any inverters or modules that are not working to an optimum level and get them repaired quickly." Not only does this maximize revenue, states Gilligan, but it also delivers greater ROI for investors.

It is also likely, added Gilligan,that utilities will begin to require this kind of data in the future in order to control the amount of energy that is sent to the grid. "SMA’s strength and investment in O&M will allow it to meet the future requirements of a maturing solar industry."