On April 20, 2010, a single device called a blowout preventer (BOP) led to one of the worst environmental and financial disasters ever recorded. The BOP failed to seal a well shut after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, resulting in 11 deaths and millions of gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days before the well could be capped.
Although the solar industry fortunately does not have the same exposure to the dramatic consequences of a BOP problem, the failure of devices in a large utility-scale solar field can lead to crippling operations and maintenance (O&M) costs or even outright economic impairment if poor technology choices are made. Fortunately, the solar industry can turn to risk analysis techniques applied in analogous situations, such as the “N-1” approach for analyzing catastrophic failure risk and a straightforward “failure rate” approach for assessing long-term O&M costs.
Given that tracker systems literally form the very foundations of utility-scale solar projects, applying these techniques to that equipment can greatly impact the overall long-term reliability and performance of such solar plants.