PraxedoOur blog Deploying field service management solutions to boost wind and solar operations and maintenance activity
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Deploying field service management solutions to boost wind and solar operations and maintenance activity

Kieran Le Peron
October 28, 2021
6 min. read

The UK renewables asset management market is one of the largest and most dynamic in Europe, driven by demand from institutional investors, such as pension funds, for asset classes with stable, long-term returns. Wind farms and solar photovoltaic (PV) farms, biomass plants, hydropower facilities, as well as grid battery storage systems, are all examples of renewables infrastructure assets. Maximising returns from these assets is achieved in part by deployment of advanced operations and maintenance (O&M) strategies, which has spawned a diverse sector of players in the UK market carrying out this type of work on behalf of asset owners. Renewables O&M carried out by independent, or third party, service providers, spans a range of approaches and specialisms, with some focusing on a specific generation technology, such as solar or wind, and some that work across different asset types. The market is further broken down into subcontractors that provide specialised or niche services. These can range from rope and access companies that can scale wind turbines to check for damage to turbine blades, to companies able to work on balance of plant electrical equipment that connects renewable energy plants to the grid. Some specialise in providing O&M services on behalf of engineering, procurement and construction companies that have built renewable energy plants in the UK but need to outsource the provision of high-quality O&M services during the plant’s initial warranty period.

Support to ensure rapid and responsive renewables maintenance

ield service management, or field service scheduling, software was developed originally to enable organisations to better manage their teams of engineers, technicians or other personnel working on multiple assets and equipment. At its heart, field service management is industry-agnostic. It is flexible and adaptable to be deployed in renewables O&M, precisely because it can be customised to suit the needs and demands of the diverse range of providers working in this sector today. Both planned and preventative maintenance are critical aspects of O&M programmes for renewable energy plants, which can encompass changing a wind turbine’s gearbox oil, or inspecting its blades, to managing vegetation, panel cleaning and inverter checks at solar plants, to gathering visuals via drones to check for the integrity of confined spaces at a hydropower plant.  

Empower renewables engineers to deliver their O&M schedules

Field service software coordinates logical schedules for each member of a fleet of technicians or engineers, reducing overall travel time and mileage, which is key when field personnel have to travel to multiple distributed sites to work through preventative maintenance schedules. Large wind farms and solar sites typically cover many square miles, and maintenance work will need to be completed in a logistical way to execute maintenance schedules on time before moving to the next renewable energy plant. Newly employed engineers unfamiliar with locations of assets can easily traverse renewable energy sites and travel to the next site thanks to exceptional coordinates and mapping provided by mobile field service apps.  

Simple onboarding for engineers

Onboarding teams of field service engineers and technicians is a fast and simple exercise, enabling them to start benefitting from the software quickly. The software is simple to use via an app for smart phone and other mobile devices. Engineers needn’t worry that it does not work in remote or out of range places as field service management tools have been designed to work in places without WiFi or with zero cellular connection. By collating information from different sources, including calendar schedules, addresses and GPS information, productivity of field service teams is further optimised. This is because field service management software is a cloud-based solution able to store various sources of data and information required by field service engineers to complete their tasks in the most efficient way possible. This information can be service history of the asset, images, service manuals and other documentation.  

Support remote diagnostics for best-in-class O&M service

Remote diagnostics are used extensively at renewable energy plants. However, when remote diagnostics flag an issue that cannot be rectified remotely, field service management software can provide back-office teams with comprehensive information about the service history of an asset, helping with decision-making with regard to appropriate action, instead of immediately dispatching an engineer to site, saving on labour and other costs, like fuel.  

Digitise reporting

Because FSM software digitises every aspect of maintenance activity from productivity of field service team members, to recording service jobs and history, this data can be used to enable more responsive maintenance plans and programmes that help deliver on maintenance-specific key performance indicators (KPIs) or targets. O&M service providers need to provide clients with clear and consistent report of all maintenance issues and activities, which FSM software can support. Features of the software allow for extensive customisation so that service providers can design summary reports or other documentation that meet the needs of individual clients.  

Smooth integration with software and IT systems

FSM solutions have been designed to integrate simply with different types of software and web services that organisations use, as well as enterprise management (ERP), enterprise asset management software or preventative maintenance software. Many companies initially install field service solutions to increase productivity of their field service teams, but discover that this advanced software provides complete visibility into service and maintenance operations, collating and pulling together information that can be used to enhance maintenance programmes to be more responsive and predictive, delivering value.

Capture new opportunities in renewables O&M

The UK is one of the largest and most established renewable energy markets in Europe. The implications of this means that a growing proportion of assets are ageing, which can require more corrective action, repairs and O&M activity than newer assets. According to Wood Mackenzie in more established onshore wind markets flexible service arrangements will become more prevalent, allowing asset owners greater flexibility in managing year-to-year expenditures and cashflows. This growth of flexible contract scopes in turn creates a need for subcontracting transactional services, giving rise to new opportunities for independent service providers, as well as manufacturers to focus on individual specifics of O&M service. The UK solar O&M market has also undergone considerable change, shifting towards proactive asset management, which results in improved asset performance to benefit investors while also ensuring that these grid-connected assets perform optimally over their 25-30-year lifetimes. Field service management software is flexible enough to be used by O&M and asset management service providers to not only schedule their own in-house teams but to roll out to subcontractor teams. This can ensure that consistent high-quality standards of service are met by every provider in the service value chain to ensure that assets run optimally. Furthermore, field service management software can support H&S reporting, ensuring that all compliance and legal documentation is digitalised and helping to ensure that safety of people who work on renewable energy plants is paramount.