Utility scale solar projects are expanding very quickly around the world, paving the way for many opportunities for investors and solar EPC contractors, but they also present many challenges due to their complexity and very big size.
The graphs show continental deployment of solar power plants of 4MWAC and over (source: WikiSolar)
Everyone involved in the value chain of a such big solar power facility is exposed to different kinds of risk.
Considerations on risks include site access and ground levelling, vegetation management, climatic conditions, logistical aspects, financial/political stability and, of course, design of the installation itself.
Site access and ground levelling
Utility scale solar projects cover very large areas of ground that cannot be perfectly smooth.
Site access and levelling ground preparation is one of the most important aspect in the construction of utility scale solar PV projects.
An uneven ground can cause flooding during periods of heavy rain. For the same reason, in rainy tropical regions it is necessary to provide a correct drainage system.
Geotechnical testing is essential for the construction of utility scale projects, because it helps to determine the best foundation, embedment depths and mounting system to be used.
An important aspect of soil testing is to assess corrosion rate, which can often cause unexpected costs for any installation, especially on large utility-scale projects. When there are corrosive soils mitigation measures, like protection of the material, have to be developed in the affected area.
Utility scale solar PV farms are usually installed in countries with high solar radiation, but generally they are subject to cold/hot temperatures and different climatic conditions throughout the year.
Depending on the environmental conditions, the solar PV panels have to be protected from wind, snow, dust and sand. Ordinary cleaning and maintenance should be sufficient in these cases, but for very large installations these services have to be scheduled more frequently.
Climatic conditions must be also considered both during the design phase, because the yield of a PV plant also depends on the temperature, and during construction phase, because workers must operate in safe and proper conditions. For example, if the installation of the utility scale solar PV plant is in a location at extreme high temperature, like desert areas, it is important to plan night shifts.
Design, Project Management and Communication
Since that utility scale solar PV projects generate a lot of energy, design specifications acquire importance, because their modifications cause a huge variation in the production.
Most common faults are caused by combination or accumulation of actions in different stages or simply by wrong or inadequate communications between the project engineers and the construction workers.
To avoid this misunderstandings, the presence of a good project manager is fundamental, as well as a specific training for on-site workers.
It is also important to provide an expert team dedicated to the utility scale PV project, following some management aspects:
Scouting and vendor qualification process
Guarantee of supervision by a qualified and experienced team
Implementation of a QA/QC process that allows to manage all aspects of quality control
ESHS Team to manage environmental, social, health and safety issues.
Large scale solar photovoltaic plant projects involve a huge amount of material and many construction workers.
In order to minimise costs and avoid penalties due to installation delays, all the different components must arrive on schedule. There must be coordination between purchasing & logistics department and suppliers to make sure every component arrives on time respecting the budget.
Indeed, in order to mitigate the congestion at the delivery of the materials on the site it is important to create a direct channel of communication between the “Logistic Service Provider” and the” Facility Management Company “that manages all the general services for that site.
Regarding directly employed personnel, a secure accommodation and a trusted local driver should be booked before the beginning of the construction works.
Transmission and distribution infrastructure
To foster sustainable, low-emission development, many countries are setting ambitious renewable energy targets for their electricity supply.
Scaling up renewable energy PV projects requires electric grid expansion and upgrades to support the additional power capacity of utility scale systems, often installed far from the existing transmission grids.
It is important in this context that governments, investors or solar EPC contractors carry out grid integration studies and verifications to be sure to develop and deliver variable renewable energy in an efficient way. The development of reliable integration methods maximize the cost-effectiveness of incorporating variable renewable energy into the country electric power system while maintaining or increasing system stability and reliability, avoiding future black outs.
Like most infrastructure projects, utility scale solar PV projects normally require huge financial resources, long construction and pay back periods. Meeting the financing needs of such projects, especially in countries with an undeveloped financial market, is really a daunting challenge.
Usually, for utility scale PV projects, different shareholders are involved in the financing scheme, and banks play an important role. For the main shareholders is important to have good relationships with international banks that are often responsible for the financing of the major percentage of the utility scale PV Project.
Enerray, with 12 years of experience in the solar photovoltaic sector, is a leading Italian company in the engineering, manufacturing and management of utility scale PV systems. We can offer Italian excellence and innovation by installing projects with high engineering standards, attitude to problem-solving & flexibility and global experience, proven by over 800 MWp installed and under construction and over 860 MWp under maintenance worldwide.
Financial solidity and reliability, as well as strong relationships with the main credit institutions and international development banks as IFC and EBRD, make Enerray the perfect partner for those who want to invest in photovoltaics without worry.