Article from Solar Power World Online Magazine
Dealing with inverter customer service when issues arise has not been the most pleasant experience for many installers in the past. Long wait times on the phone with manufacturers can waste precious time and increase hourly costs for project owners.
O&M provider SunSystem Technology’s team of 170 technicians has found that calling a manufacturer to help diagnose specific inverter issues can take up to an hour.
“If you multiply that by 170 technicians, plus whatever other technicians are out there from different companies, the amount of just sheer on-hold time from a labor cost standpoint is crazy,” said Derek Chase, CEO of SunSystem Technology.
Manufacturers are hoping to improve the process by bringing O&M services online.
Fronius now offers O&M service through an app. The company launched Solar.SOS at the end of 2020 to simplify on-site troubleshooting. The app lets service techs enter the faulty inverter’s serial number and state code shown on the app, then receive comprehensive repair instructions. If individual components must be replaced, technicians can organize a swap directly on the app.
“Our new apps let us provide technical support 24 hours a day so that installers can give their end customers a first-rate service,” said Stephan Holzinger, head of technical support at Fronius International GmbH, in a press release.
SMA integrates some O&M functions into its free monitoring software. The SMA Smart Connected program performs fault monitoring, sends issue diagnoses via email and even initiates an automatic replacement shipment if necessary. Due to COVID-19, SMA is allowing customers to activate Smart Connected up to two years after commissioning.
Aside from making the jobs of O&M technicians easier, remote inverter monitoring, repairs and upgrades became necessary at the height of COVID-19 and social distance requirements. During that time, Enphase built out its contact-free upgrade program where owners of existing Enphase microinverter systems can request an upgrade online, then communicate with installers via email and over the phone to enhance their systems.
“During the coronavirus stay-at-home order, the Enphase Upgrade Program went from being an interesting service opportunity to an absolute necessity,” said Michael Tanuvasa, owner at SolarTech Hawaii, in a press release. “Our installation teams can keep ample social distance from homeowners during upgrade projects. It’s a win-win for everyone because customers get an upgraded system at an excellent price, and we get to keep our team employed and working during this difficult time.”
O&M service providers have also gotten into the remote inverter maintenance game. O&M outfit Solar Support offers a service to help inverter manufacturers build automated and standardized customer service systems, including virtual ticketing systems. The company’s key pitch is flexible labor — streamlining the O&M process for optimal customer service satisfaction and lower costs for project owners.
“Because our after-sales service is designed for flexibility, we can dispatch as needed — resulting in fewer truck rolls, lower O&M costs and contented customers,” said Auston Taber, Solar Support CEO, in a press release.
There’s still work to do to make inverter maintenance quicker and easier, but manufacturers moving the process online is a start.