Utility-Scale Solar Farms- Pain Points
Inaccurate evaluation of the plant's performance, difficulty in logistics' planning and coordination, and siting and assessment are three of the biggest pain points of utility-scale solar farm developers. More details on the pain points have been provided below.
Pain Point #1: Inaccurate Evaluation of the Plant's Performance
- Inaccurate evaluation of utility-scale solar plants means that the maximum energy potential from the plants as projected in the energy analysis is not obtained. In most cases, the operation centers look for big problems such as site trips, comms losses, and inverters, failing to conduct detailed performance analyses to ensure that the plant's operation is at the peak level.
- A key contributor to this problem is the fact that there are very few people that have a good understanding of "how to evaluate solar plant performance. Technology such as solar string analysis is also expensive and not feasible for day to day monitoring. Sophisticated data analytics is expensive and not valuable on a continuous basis.
- Independent engineers are an important resource for the developer, but in most cases, their energy estimation analysis is usually limited. Many tools that are used for solar project implementation leverage generalized statistics and approaches. Developers find it difficult to know how and where to gain ultimate optimization, ensure that there are more predictable outcomes, and improve project value.
- A good example of the danger of poor evaluation is the financial loss caused by designating funds to solve a problem that has been poorly detected. Assuming that energy loss from the plant is due to module or environmental soiling on the site can make a utility-scale solar farm developer contract a water truck for washing of the site, which is expensive. In this case, inaccurate evaluation of the plant's performance leads to the assumption that its energy loss is caused by factors such as pollen or other seasonal events while it could be normal plant performance.
- This challenge goes hand in hand with issues such as productivity and time management.
- As a solution, developers can partner with companies that can give periodic field services for the collection of some of these data. They can also train the plant operators on how to conduct such analyses.
Pain Point #2: Difficulty in Logistics' Planning and Coordination
- Utility-scale solar farms involve multiple materials and many construction workers. To minimize costs and prevent penalties arising from installation delays, all the components need to arrive on time.
- There needs to be coordination between the logistics departments, purchasing departments, and suppliers. This ensures that every component gets to the farms on time, respecting and maintaining the budget.
- Mitigating congestion during the delivery of materials on site requires the creation of a direct communication channel between the facility's management and the logistic service provider.
- This is a key pain point because of the huge number of interfaces such as contractors, module and inverter suppliers, landowners, planning authorities, and network operators.
- Digital means can be used to improve logistics by leveraging construction technology that:
- Tracks materials from acceptance to onsite installation.
- Automatically tracks people and vehicles.
- Checks the quality onsite.
- Reconciles supplier activities on site depending on the contract obligations.
- Coordinates relationships with contractors and suppliers.
- In real-life utility-scale solar projects and facilities, logistics are required for the responsible supply chain starting from requisitioning to procurement and shipment, supervision of shipment activities, and the management of warehouses for strategic supplies.
Pain Point #3: Siting and Assessments
- Proper siting of land for solar use is important and the incorporation of thorough surveys ensures that each site undergoes proper investigation by the developer before construction.
- Utility-scale solar farms are more than two acres in size and today's facilities may even cover thousands of acres. This increases the likelihood of sensitive species being present.
- All utility-scale solar projects call for evaluation and analysis of the potential environmental effects, including those posed to wildlife and their habitats.
- Professional, experienced, and licensed geological and biological surveyors need to be hired on all sites to ensure that ground disturbance is at minimum levels and that the site boundaries are respected.
- Avoidance measured like the creation of buffer areas on the site need to be created or the sensitive species should be relocated. In some cases, construction needs to be halted temporarily.
- For example, an RPCS site in California navigated through a changing construction plan because there were several sensitive species on the site. These included antelopes, snakes, squirrels, and lizards. This was an expensive process.
- Working around sensitive fauna and flora can challenge the construction process, slowing down progress
- This pain point of siting and assessment can be solved through the presence of qualified biologists and geologists who are experts in their fields. These people will be present throughout the construction process and they can recommend proactive measures for the protection of sensitive species.