Operations and Maintenance Training
Key Actions in O&M Training
- Have O&M staff shadow Commissioning Agent during commissioning for early interaction with new renewable energy equipment.
- Train facility staff fully on O&M manual and building systems, regardless of O&M contracts on renewable energy systems.
- Provide key facility staff with general renewable energy and LEED training prior to building start-up.
- Look for opportunities for O&M staff to learn from external O&M contractors.
To keep a renewable energy system performing at optimal levels, operations and maintenance (O&M) personnel must receive thorough training.
A renewable energy system may be properly installed, but without a robust O&M program in place, it will not perform as specified over the long-term. Even if O&M services are outsourced to a third-party or provided as part of a renewable energy funding arrangement, on-site staff should be trained to perform basic O&M procedures.
Operations and maintenance training is cited as a requirement for construction efforts, but too often, the actual training is provided as an afterthought in the final stages of a project and is poorly coordinated, loosely structured, and lacking well-defined objectives. In many cases, training responsibilities are handed over to contractors who can provide adequate training in the systems they have installed, but fail to explain how these systems should operate in concert with other systems and infrastructure.
Agencies should include detailed provisions in construction contracts that require O&M documentation and training as part of closeout activities.
Starting Staff Training Early
As soon as key facility staff is identified for a new construction project or major renovation, the agency should look for opportunities to increase their familiarity with renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and issues. A range of renewable energy training opportunities are available, and staff could take these prior to building construction. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) AP Operations and Maintenance certification of at least one member of the facility staff can prove useful in optimizing building system performance and ensuring systems run as intended, but this should not be considered a substitute for training with specific renewable energy systems.
Operations and maintenance training should be a dynamic process intertwined with a larger commissioning effort. Ideally, O&M involvement will begin during the initial stage of the commissioning process with select O&M personnel participating in commissioning team meetings.
The start-up and functional testing procedures performed during the commissioning process also provide good training opportunities for O&M personnel. By shadowing the project team during testing procedures, O&M staff can gain invaluable insight into renewable energy system operations.
Creating a Formal Training Program
In addition to their involvement in key steps throughout the commissioning process, O&M staff should also receive more structured training from the general contractor and other renewable energy installers. At the end of the project construction phase, the general contractor compiles all necessary O&M documentation and, in some projects, collects written training plans from renewable energy installers. Each plan should list the equipment or system covered in the training, intended audience, location of the training, objectives, subjects covered, duration of training on each subject, instructor for each subject, and training methods involved (lecture, site walk-through, etc.).
The general contractor develops an overall training plan and coordinates scheduling for the training. The commissioning agent will review the training plan to verify that content is complete and develop a set of criteria for determining when O&M training has been successfully completed.
The general contractor and renewable energy installers present the training material with the commissioning agent attending all training sessions. Although content will vary based on the renewable energy systems involved, general topic areas for O&M training include:
- Basic Operations: Training should reiterate standard operational procedures, including system start-up and shut-down. For renewable energy, the training should discuss the performance variability expected during different weather and seasonal conditions.
- Health and Safety: O&M staff are typically accustomed to working with electrical systems, but few have extensive experience with high-voltage direct current (DC). Training for the applicable renewable energy systems should thoroughly cover DC-related safety procedures.
- Emergency Procedures: O&M staff members must be taught emergency protocol, including the procedures for emergency system shut-down.
- Troubleshooting: Training should cover basic troubleshooting techniques and identify resources for further reference. For renewable energy systems, training should also include information on when to identify the need for outside expertise.
- Systems Integration: O&M staff must understand how a renewable energy system integrates with surrounding systems and infrastructure
- Measurement and Verification (M&V): For renewable energy projects, O&M personnel must be trained in the M&V systems used to track output and performance. M&V technology provides data that can guide O&M staff in making the adjustments necessary to optimize equipment.
Providing Additional Training
Operating and maintaining a renewable energy system requires a specialized set of skills. Depending on the complexity of technology involved, O&M personnel may need additional training or certification from an equipment manufacturer. In these cases, an external O&M contractor might originally be hired, but the facility staff should take every opportunity to learn from external resources. Within a couple years, the in-house staff may be able to achieve certification and take over those responsibilities. Providing advancement or other incentives to employees to reach these new skill levels can benefit both facility staff and the agency.
Additional training is also required whenever there is significant O&M staff turnover. For instance, when a facility's management and operating contract changes hands, an entirely new O&M team might be brought on board. Comprehensive O&M training on the facility and its integrated renewable energy systems should be included as a provision in the new contract.
In addition, if the facility finds itself in a situation where staff turnover has resulted in mostly untrained personnel on the renewable energy systems, the original installers or another team with similar experience should be brought in to re-train the staff and ensure systems are used correctly.