It is well known that working photovoltaic (PV) plants show several maintenance needs due to wiring and module degradation, mismatches, dust, and PV cell defects and faults. There are a wide range of theoretical studies as well as some laboratory tests that show how these circumstances may affect the PV production. Thus, it is mandatory to evaluate the whole PV plant performance and, then, its payback time, profitability, and environmental impact or carbon footprint. However, very few studies include a systematic procedure to quantify and supervise the real degradation effects and fault impacts on the field. In this paper, the authors first conducted a brief review of the most frequent PV faults and the degradation that can be found under real conditions of operation of PV plants. Then, they proposed and developed an innovative Geographic Information System (GIS) application to locate and supervise them. The designed tool was applied to both a large PV plant of 108 kWp and a small PV plant of 9 kWp installed on a home rooftop. For the large PV plant, 24 strings of PV modules were modelized and introduced into the GIS application and every module in the power plant was studied including voltage, current, power, series and parallel resistances, fill factor, normalized PV curve to standard test conditions (STC), thermography and visual analysis. For the small PV installation three strings of PV panels were studied identically. It must be noted that PV modules in this case included power optimizers. The precision of the study enabled the researchers to locate and supervise up to a third part of every PV cell in the system, which can be adequately georeferenced. The developed tool allows both the researchers and the investors to increase control of the PV plant performance, to lead to better planning of maintenance actuations, and to evaluate several PV module replacement strategies in a preventive maintenance program. The PV faults found include hot spots, snail tracks, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) discoloration, PV cell fractures, busbar discoloration, bubbles and Si discoloration.
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