Obton to double technical team, bring O&M and EPC expertise in-house

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Danish renewable asset management group Obton is to double the size of its technical team this year in a bid to streamline the maintenance of its solar portfolio.

Obton, which manages some 800 PV projects globally with an overall capacity of 982MWp, is among Europe’s largest solar operators. Last January, the company’s joint venture with Irish group Shannon Energy set sights on developing 500MW of solar in Ireland by 2025. Obton's chief executive Anders Marcus said last August he hoped to hit the 1GW milestone by the end of the year.

Technical director Robin Hirschl, who had previously spent the last decade running his own O&M and facility management company, joined Obton as the company’s technical director in 2019, overseeing a team of 15 people. He told PV Tech the company will double its technical workforce over the course of 2021 in order to streamline the operations and maintenance of its renewables portfolio.

Already, one new technical manager started working remotely in Poland on 1 January 2021, while another member of the team in Hungary is due to start at the start of next month.

The company has decided to bring more technical expertise in-house as profit margins are increasingly squeezed by falling feed-in tariff rates.

“Back in the days when we had feed-in tariffs of €30-€40 it was a lot easier to pa money to O&M providers”, he said, but warned that as more, cheaper clean energy comes onto the grid, “asset owners need to think very carefully what is really required. How do we control what our contractors are really doing? How do we organise the interface to our lenders, which is also something that has been completely neglected in recent years and why we as an owner need to ramp up our team.”

While Obton still uses local contractors for preventative maintenance and day-to-day asset management, the newly-bolstered team will work to consolidate the data from developers on its 800 plants into one system which will provide a more automated approach to maximising the portfolio’s effectiveness. Hirschl said ideal candidates would be working in “one-person teams” to coordinate directly with technical suppliers, and is looking for engineers with a background in EPC, technical service or at a technical asset management company.

“We are looking for one overarching intelligent system that helps us identify which systems are running well and which are not…is this due to causes we can’t influence like grid issues or due to non-performing local contractors? That’s one of our main concerns at the moment.”

The recruitment drives come at a time when the O&M sector has become increasingly competitive due to falling energy prices. Canadian investor Clairvest which launched the subsidiary NovaSource Power Services after acquiring the entirety of developer Sunpower’s O&M division, and snapped up FirstSolar’s O&M business last August.

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