Costly O&M Mistakes Common in Energy Access Markets

It’s always awkward, but sometimes you must tell your colleague they have lettuce in their teeth.

In that spirit, this blog highlights costly O&M mistakes common in energy access markets.

Frequent Miscalculations Common to Microgrid Developers

Monitoring is the same as maintenance, right? It’s not!


Just about every week, we clarify that having monitoring and control technology at your site is not a synonym for a maintenance program. Monitoring and control solutions will tell you and your field agents about asset performance if there is a problem. However only computerized maintenance management software like 60Hertz provides can actually help your field staff quickly and transparently perform corrective action.


TFE Energy’s report, “Energy Access, Data and Digital Tools” references the cost savings that digital solutions enable: “Due to the remoteness and dispersion of the OGS and mini-grid markets, costs associated with traveling to customers to perform maintenance can greatly increase operating expenses. As a result, being able to remotely identify and troubleshoot problems has greatly reduced the operating expenses of energy access companies . . . Monitoring platforms can’t actually correct or fix what their alarms bring to light. Simply dispatching an employee with the mandate “go fix it” is not enough.


Small renewable sites don’t need much maintenance. They do!


While fixed or roof-mounted PV panels and batteries at microgrid scale demand less maintenance, preventative or corrective routines are non-negotiable to getting the full life expectancy your ROI analysis anticipates.


Infrequent maintenance often demands reminders since the activity is not occurring daily. 60Hertz has found that field agents may overlook the standard operating procedures necessary to complete an action they perform just quarterly or semi-annually. 60 Hertz’s picture-driven references and notes from the last site visit jog the memory helpfully and avoid a 2nd trip to the field. Further, investors and project donors are increasingly savvy that measuring a microgrid’s kWh sold is insufficient to verify the real operational health of the project.


“Excel and WhatsApp are sufficient for field operations.” They aren’t!

Remote asset maintenance is all about data. But it’s the first place developers often instinctively want to cut corners. However maintenance logs contain a trove of historical values and observations.


Can Excel turn hour-based or condition-based maintenance into an actionable, step-by-step set of instructions? Can Excel run a root cause analysis report if you didn’t anticipate recording a spate of problems with a certain meter?




Is your WhatsApp group able to provide a platform that management can query to determine the number of failures provided by a certain make and model of inverter? Can WhatsApp retain pictures in perpetuity to defend against warranty claims? And what about the security of these messages and sensitive information on employees’ personal devices?


Even if your microgrid development company only has 2 or 3 sites today, now is the time to establish your baseline dataset in a formal CMMS (what is CMMS?). These early values will be critical to demonstrate progress and growth. Some maintenance software, like 60Hertz, is designed to be affordable for even a few sites, but will enable you to tell the story to management, customers and investors in terms of electricity reliability, efficiency of your operations, and to make the case for asset replacement.


No local agent is necessary: Yes they are!

An on-site employee is strategic to serve as an ambassador for your company, to help resolve customer issues with meters or billing, catch silent failures of your assets, prevent vandalism, discourage electricity theft. Some mini-grid developers expand the role of the local site agent to include support of new community-wide or residential appliance care and maintenance, or other economic development activities. If there is bulk-fuel storage, the site agent plays a non-negotiable role to reduce corruption and promote transparency. The right maintenance software will enable and buttress the site agent’s success and impact.

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Piper Foster Wilder

Piper Foster Wilder is a Humboldt Fellow and is former Vice President of Amatis Controls. She is committed to creating meaningful work for all people and enabling a transition to renewable energy while economizing the diesel that some must use. She holds multiple awards for her entrepreneurship and social impact initiatives.