#SFIEurope: Huge potential but unique challenges for Australia’s O&M market

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As the afternoon sessions at this year's Solar Finance and Investment Europe split into two streams with country focuses, one of the newest to gain interest was Australia, which was said to face unique challenges created by the weather and a harsh environment.

Barry Bennett, head of international O&M at BELECTRIC, presented key O&M challenges for solar assets in Australia, looking at lessons the company has learnt from its four solar farms in the country. The spotlight fell particularly on the 349MWp Limondale solar plant near Balranald (New South Wales), set to become the firm's largest plant to date once operational.

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According to Bennett, there are seven key areas those interested in O&M in the country must be aware of. One of the most significant is the weather, with the effects of climate change becoming increasingly obvious.

With the rising temperature, the challenges to the safety of O&M workers increases, as systems must be put in place to ensure they stay hydrated.

The danger of bushfires is also increasing as temperatures rise, making it more important than ever to maintain growth around cabling and sites. 

Other weather challenges include lightning, thunder and dust storms. The latter has a major impact on the cleaning of the panels, which has to be done at least eight times a year and creates particular challenges given Australia's higher water prices. 

Manpower is another challenge facing the O&M market there, as engineers have a generally high wage in the country, with management generally being paid the equivalent of £75,000 (US$97,400) a year.

Animals can also provide an unusual maintenance problem, with cockatoos chewing through equipment and birds sitting on panels and causing damaging soiling. This is a challenge Bennett said he is “still waiting for a proven solution” for.

Despite the challenges the future for growth in Australia is “huge” continued Bennett, especially from an O&M perspective.

Consultants at Rystad Energy said last month that Australia could commission up to 3.6GWac of solar and wind capacity by the end of 2020. This would set a “new record” after 2019’s figure of 2.6Wac.

The 3.6GWac forecast for 2020 is split between PV (1.96GWac) and wind (1.57GWac). It could be a reversal of Australia's “quiet spell” towards late 2019, as Rystad described it. 

The same bushfire crisis complicating O&M work is indirectly driving uptake of small-scale solar, as Australians resort to these systems in an effort to secure themselves from grid outages.

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