Runtime Solar is another division of Norwich Technologies.
As Norwich Technologies contemplated many global issues, their solutions offered them new opportunities. Starting RunTime Solar fulfilled a clear need for local, professional management and maintenance of solar assets. Managing a solar asset goes far beyond servicing a solar panel or inverter warranty, and includes a host of other jobs.
RunTime Solar’s service can begin at commissioning the solar asset, and continue to end-of-life replacement or decommissioning. In between the entire system is maintained by experts; including inspections, monitoring, alerts, reports, all manner of maintenance, and overall management of the site. Anything that can reduce production is addressed by trained eyes and hands.
We asked Dan Kinney, the head of Runtime Solar (RTS) about the jobs he and his crew do. He started with site maintenance, saying that it included “everything from mowing and weed whacking to fence repair.” But that was just a start.
Kinney said the mowers he uses can be big. One cut down saplings close to two inches thick. “The forest in New England is constantly trying to win, which is fine,” he said, “but not near a solar panel.” We did ask about sheep keeping grass down, which is almost commonplace at some sites throughout the state. Kinney said, “We have looked at sheep. It looks good and everyone likes it, but we haven’t found a shepherd who will do the job as economically as the mowers.”
There is more to vegetation control, however, than cutting grass and saplings. Some of it involves identifying and controlling invasive species. “Part of what we do is vegetation management. Some of the sites have permits that require invasive species control. We bring in scientists to observe. I work on a variety of reports and it’s all part of the operations and maintenance service we provide.” One especially important species to control Kinney mentioned was Japanese knotweed.
While much of the work relies on consistent physical on-site management, RunTime Solar harnesses the technology available to further address any reduction in production. Kinney said, “We maintain computers that monitor everything. Asset management means constant monitoring. In the morning after a snowstorm, you wake up and there are a lot of messages.” He also said, “The computers are super helpful. The monitoring software is pretty amazing. We can even update the firmware from a desk. It’s 2022!”
The goal is to have the solar asset producing at the highest level it can all the time, “24/7/365,” as the RTS website says. Kinney commented, “We make most of our electricity during the harvest season.” He explained that the bulk of production was in spring, summer, and fall. But doing the best really does include making the best of sunshine in the winter. Norwich Technologies has, with the help of their research and development team, deployed specific technologies that get the snow off the panels. We asked about how those technologies worked. It is proprietary information for now. Perhaps we will learn more in time.
Kinney suggested that RTS has around 130 assets under management, with the majority of these being installed by Norwich Solar. While some assets are as small as 30 kilowatts (kW), they generally range in sizes from 150kW to 500kW. Such systems need to be properly managed to get the best results, and so that they can continue to spread the benefits of local renewable energy generation to local communities for years to come.
“This is a real industry,” Kinney said. “We have a really good staff with a lot of diversity.” And it is an industry that needs new employees, as it is expanding, even during an age with Covid-19. “I am interested in hiring electricians,” Kinney said. But he wants really good people who understand everything from computers to field work.
The RTS website is runtimesolar.com.