Operations and Maintenance Team
Assembling the right set of skills and resources to operate and maintain a renewable energy system is critical. Renewable energy technologies only perform as specified when managed by a well-trained, highly motivated operations and maintenance (O&M) team.
For a renewable energy project financed through an energy savings performance contract (ESPC) or a power purchase agreement (PPA), primary O&M services are typically delivered as part of the agreement, but in-house staff will need some familiarity with the system. For agency-funded projects, O&M services may be provided by in-house facilities staff, a contracted service provider, or a combination of the two.
Experienced O&M staff can provide valuable input and should be included in design review. During the design phase, O&M personnel not only begin learning about the renewable energy systems to be installed, but can provide design input that will facilitate optimal O&M practices later on. For example, O&M staff can provide recommendations on the placement of walkways or special access needed to service various systems.
Leveraging In-House Personnel
Although some agencies have the opportunity to hire full-time O&M professionals with renewable energy expertise, others have existing facility personnel requiring renewable energy training.
When hiring new facility personnel, agencies can specify minimum experience with renewable energy technologies, especially the ones included in the new facility. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification, particularly the LEED AP Operations and Maintenance credential, can be highly useful for facility staff, and this could help one candidate stand out over others. However, LEED involves a range of sustainable building information and will not necessarily denote any specific experience with or understanding of renewable energy technologies. Although certification as a qualified installer in the relevant renewable energy technologies is not needed for this level of employee, it would certainly be beneficial. The more experience available in-house, the more likely the agency can save money by reducing outside contracts.
Ideally, O&M training begins while the renewable energy project is being commissioned. O&M staff can shadow the commissioning team at key points in the process and start learning about the equipment before it becomes operational. While LEED training for facility staff can help with a broad-based understanding of the range of energy and other sustainable measures built into the facility. It should not be expected to provide specific renewable energy training.
O&M personnel should also receive more structured training at the end of the project's construction phase. In addition to covering basic operations, safety procedures, and troubleshooting techniques, this training should provide an understanding of how the renewable energy system is integrated with surrounding systems and infrastructure. Additionally, it should prepare O&M staff to interpret measurement and verification (M&V) data and incorporate it in their ongoing maintenance programs.
Renewable energy systems typically require specialized O&M training extending beyond the instruction provided during commissioning. In-house staff can receive additional training from renewable energy equipment manufacturers and other external resources.
Engaging Third-Party Resources
Many agencies contract third-party resources to provide O&M services for their renewable energy systems. By using a third-party operations and maintenance provider, an agency can get specialized renewable energy expertise without investing in extensive staff training. However, some agencies find having an in-house maintenance team on-site at all times more advantageous.
An agency can also choose a phased approach in which a third-party O&M provider serves as a training resource for in-house facilities staff. For example, an agency might set up a one- or two-year contract with a third-party service provider offering the required renewable energy expertise. The regularly scheduled inspections can serve as training sessions for in-house facilities staff and, at the end of the contract, the staff is prepared to take over O&M for the renewable energy system.