Inverter failures are some of the worst headaches a solar array owner or operator can deal with. For a part that only costs a fraction of the project’s value, inverters can cause a significant amount of downtime. And solar energy project downtime means lost profit and an impending fix.
The good news? Quality assurance (QA) protocols, along with maintenance programs, will save you a lot of problems and can prevent inverter failure, especially in solar systems.
In this article, you’ll learn how inverter failures negatively impact power providers (especially independent producers selling power to utilities), and how you can prevent the same failures with operations and maintenance. (And don’t forget the importance of the right computerized maintenance management system, or CMMS.)
What Causes Solar Panel Inverter Panels to Fail?
When you’re looking at the most common causes of inverter failures—certainly not just those in solar panels—there are some common ingredients in the failure recipe.
1. Capacitor Wear
One of the most common culprits behind failing inverts is damage done to capacitors from electro-mechanical wear. In order to function, inverters rely on capacitors for stable power output, regardless of current. Unfortunately, electrolytic capacitors don’t last as long as alternative options, and can ultimately cause inverter failure.
Capacitors are also quite sensitive to varying temperatures. Run your capacitor at the higher-than-recommended temperature, and you’ve got early wear and tear on your hands. Run your capacitor at a cooler temperature, though, and part life can increase. At the end of the day, however, consistent maintenance and capacitor replacement can help prevent failure.
2. Problems With Voltage
Similar to the problem of running your capacitors too hot, a similar line of thinking applies to problems caused by inconsistent voltage. If voltage increases to a point that the inverter is not built to handle, the device can become damaged.
You can avoid over-current with the help of fuses or circuit breakers, but high voltage can be caused by natural phenomena (like lightning) or can even occur due to human interference.
Another problem that may crop up is just the reality of over-usage—using your inverter past its operational limits. Doing this can lead to decreased lifespan, and, ultimately, part failure. Overuse can also be prevented with a rigorous maintenance plan, to make sure your inverters are being operated correctly.
4. Ultrasonic Vibrations
No less important than the other three potential problems, mechanical stress also contributes to inverter trouble. Ultrasonic vibrations, specifically, can cause internal friction, contributing to heat and potential part damage.
As with any of these problems, maintenance is key to making sure your system performance stays optimal. Even if an inverter appears to be working like normal, don’t ignore signs of wear and tear!
The most common cause of solar panel inverter failures, however, is faulty installation. Additionally, if your solar panels generate more power than your inverter has the capacity for, your inverter just won’t work. Other problems can also arise from the grid itself, poor inverter design (resulting in premature aging of parts), and manufacturing flaws.
How Inverter Failures Cost Power Providers Thousands
If multiple inverters fail, your solar array—and your profit—are bound to suffer. For scale, an inverter, which can cost 5% of the total amount for a solar project, can result in 90% of the project’s downtime if it fails. If you consider large-scale utility projects as a larger point of focus, inverters can be the culprits behind 91% of the problems in these same projects.
According to Solar Builder Magazine, when multiple inverters fail, multiple arrays get disconnected from the grid, causing both uptime and profitability to tank. If you think about a 250-megawatt solar project, a 4-megawatt inverter failure can cause a loss of 25 megawatts per day.
Solar Builder also notes that if you assume a power purchase agreement (PPA) rate of $50 per megawatt-hour, that downtime is costing you $1,250 a day.
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How to Prevent Inverter Failures
The first step in reducing your solar array downtime is being incredibly selective when it comes to the types of inverters you choose. First, you should take a close look at data on field performance and design. This data should fall into the same parameters for your solar project, including environmental conditions and grid requirements.
You also need to pay close attention to contract and warranty verbiage. And, if possible, you should also look into your inverter manufacturer’s quality control—you want to make sure that parts are being made the right way. A company with an excellent supply chain might have a poor assembly line, for example.
A consistent maintenance program should never be overlooked, especially when it comes to dealing with part failure. Rather than being caught unawares by inverter failure, the right CMMS can help you stay on top of maintenance data and flag when work needs to be done.
Prevent Inverter Failures With the Right CMMS
Trusted by over 30 utilities and service companies, 60Hertz Energy’s CMMS streamlines operations and maintenance data, with features specifically tailored for electric utilities. You’ll move easily from pen and paper maintenance tracking to a CMMS that automates much of the log-keeping for you.
When you work with 60Hertz, you’re able to generate work orders, keep tabs on asset inspections, and create forms best suited to the needs of your industry.
Optimize management for your solar projects with 60Hertz’s cost-effective CMMS solution. Book a demo today.