The more experienced regulators and utilities become with the processes that comprise getting distributed energy connected to the grid, the more efficient they're getting. To highlight the ways utility companies, project managers and solar manufacturers are working to expedite the interconnecting process, Trina Solar, in partnership with Smart Electric Power Alliance, recently hosted a webinar entitled "Asset Management: Solar Plant Development from Planning through Commissioning" that went through the different stages and parties involved in bringing a utility-scale solar installation from idea to fruition.
Commissioning a utility-scale solar installation requires a concerted effort between many different companies, regulatory agencies and public-sector institutions. Unfortunately, the procedures and rules erected to guide these various actors through the process of connecting a distributed solar system to the grid can be complex and time-consuming. Further, the more popular this clean, renewable energy becomes, the more in demand it will get, which can have the adverse effect of clogging up the channels these actors need to travel to get a solar system up and running.
Even smaller installations are facing extended wait times for approval of projects. The amount of time it took for utilities to approve permissions to operate and interconnection applications (i.e., pre-construction) between 2014 and 2015 increased, according to the recently published report, "Comparing Utility Interconnection Timeless for Small-Scale Solar PV, 2nd Edition" released by EQ Research.
In the much larger utility-scale installations ranging from 1 to 250 MW capacity, the interconnection process is considerably longer. As noted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the administrative, regulatory and interconnection costs are much greater for large-scale utility projects, and often require a variety of actors to navigate miles of red tape. The Trina-sponsored Webinar highlighted ways energy companies, utilities and solar panel manufacturers are working to streamline these hurdles for solar PV installations to bring this energy source online faster.
North Carolina has been a booming hotbed of solar installations, with the Tar Heel State lagging behind California in terms of advanced development of solar PV additions.
The first speaker for the webinar was Patty Wright, the director of legal operations at FSL Energy, a North Carolina-based full-service solar-energy provider that owns and operates a portfolio of solar-energy assets throughout the U.S.
Patty discussed the due diligence process required before any construction can begin. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Federal approval
- Environmental studies
- Zoning and permitting
- Civil engineering
- U.S. Army Corp of Engineering permitting
- Electrical engineering
- State and local permits
Each of these steps plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and security of the utility-scale project. Unfortunately, a delay at any one of these steps can extend the interconnection process, leading to schedule overruns or budgetary constraints. Project managers responsible for the completion of this initial due diligence have to be in a position to move the process along effectively to keep costs down and remain on schedule.
Even after the completion of the due diligence process, unforeseen obstacles can still remain. One of the major hurdles to a successful interconnection is the right-of-way needed to get to some of the more hard-to-reach places where utility-scale solar PV arrays exist. There are trees that may need to be cut down or, one of the biggest problems, railroad tracks blocking access to the sight. These right-of-way issues can create additional delays in the development of a utility-scale solar plant.
Compliance in the interconnection process
The Gary Freeman, general manager, distributed energy resource compliance at North Carolina-based Duke Energy, elaborated on some of the challenges that arise during the interconnection procedure involved in linking up the installation with the utility provider to deliver clean, renewable energy to the grid and make it available for all.
As noted above, one of the biggest obstacles utilities are facing is keeping up with the flood of demand pouring in. At the end of September 2016, the company had more than 7,300 MWs of projects in the queue, with more than 6,600 MWs in solar projects waiting to start the development process.
One of the ways Duke Energy is responding to this increase in demand is by enhancing project statuses and making the process more transparent. For instance, the utility company now offers an interconnection queue that lets project managers see how far along their particular projects are, and how many new projects are in front of them in line.
In addition to the enhanced project statuses, the company is also implementing new design and construction quality techniques impacting safety and reliability standards which will be required on all projects. Furthermore, Duke will now perform full commissioning and inspecting of all sites before energizing them.
Utilizing 1500V panels
In the third and final section of the webinar, Gautam Ghose, product marketing manager at Trina Solar, explained how utility-scale installations can benefit from transitioning away from older 1000V solar modules and instead install updated 1500V modules.
While the roll out and adoption of 1500V PV modules was only a few years ago, these products are already creating quite a stir in the utility-scale solar sector. Despite the initial push for 1500v modules beginning in 2014, experts estimate there will be 5 GWdc installed worldwide by the end of 2016, or 10 percent of all utility/industrial installations globally. By 2020, this number is expected to reach 63 GWdc,or an estimated 93 percent of all projects 1 MW or larger.
There's good reason why project managers and utility companies around the world are transitioning away from the less-efficient 1000V panels and to the newer 1500V modules.
The 1500V module lowers overall capital expenditures by:
- Enabling up to 50 percent longer strings.
- Reducing balance of system, source circuits, combiner boxes and wires by 35 percent.
- Allowing for larger array blocks, proportionally less medium-voltage AC wiring and components.
- Lowering labor costs.
The 1500V modules also create additional savings through:
- Reducing operations and maintenance costs, since there are fewer inverters and BOS components to service.
- Better performance through increased system output from higher DC voltage, more efficient inverters and reduced line losses.
- Lowering labor costs.
One of the problems holding back the 1500V modules in the first place was the lack of infrastructure, insufficient safety certifications and a prolonged R&D phase that lagged behind the BOS supply chain. However, now that these impediments have been overcome, the 1500V modules are ready to boost cost savings and generate more energy.
Trina Solar offers several 1500V modules:
Framed Modules, such as TALLMAX and TALLMAX plus
- 310-355W portfolio
- Low degradation rate, 0.7 percent/yr
- 3rd-party verified leading quality
Dual-Glass modules, such as DUOMAX and DUOMAX plus
- 310-355W portfolio
- Lower degradation rate, 0.5 percent/yr
- Leading 30-year linear power warranty
- ~25 percent more lifetime energy yield
- High performance in harsh environments
With full UL safety certification, 1500V solar panels make an ideal choice for utility-scale installations. As one of the world's leading providers of 1500V solar panels, Trina Solar is committed to bringing this clean, renewable resource to every corner of the globe.
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