Trends in International Utility-Scale PV Solar Plant Development and Operation

Growth in solar energy production and the development of utility-scale photovoltaic power plants are no longer regionally isolated trends.

In fact, as 2021 rolls on, it’s bringing with it the promise of unseen growth in PV solar production and development around the globe.

PV Magazine recently highlighted this growth, noting that:

  • Assisted by industry-friendly, low-carbon policies and ambitious green energy goals, solar energy is experiencing a global boom.
  • The UK added 545 MW of solar capacity last year to reach 13.9 GW total, and the EU recorded an annual rise of 7 TWh in the third quarter of 2020, largely driven by the emergence of Spain as a true solar powerhouse.

And recently, SolarPower Europe and EIT InnoEnergy launched the European Solar Initiative (ESI) to help further accelerate European PV solar market growth past the impressive 11% realized in 2020 — all achieved in the face of headwinds of the global pandemic.

This growth, and the challenges sure to accompany it, will need solutions to match.

Array Technologies’ expert team is ready to aid EPCs, PV plant developers, investors, and insurers to capitalise on tremendous solar potential in these regions, including in Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia, and Europe.


Addressing International Trends in Utility-Scale PV Solar

As is the case in many places around the world, utility-scale PV solar plants will need to be developed in less-than-optimal locations, on time and on budget, and with robust performance and lower total cost of ownership over decades in mind.

In making that vision a reality, opportunity exists in the following key international solar trends:

  1. The Extension of Module Rows
  2. A Shift Toward a Focus on OpEx and Less Assumed Risk by Developers and Owners
  3. Module Innovation for Difficult Conditions
  4. Ease of Installation and Operation


The Extension of Module Rows

Optimizing power yield of a utility-scale PV power plant requires maximizing site coverage, even in difficult terrain. Extending module rows can help developers do just that.

This trend of extending module rows will empower developers in places like Spain, which is set to nearly double the growth pace of European leader Germany in the immediate future, to build powerful, high-output sites, regardless of terrain.

By leveraging a four-string tracker row as opposed to a more traditional three-string row, the overall cost per watt of each individual row is drastically lowered. The central idea is to offer more flexible plant configurations that help developers take advantage of non-traditional solar sites and find the most efficient, cost-effective design for a particular area.

By extending module row length, there’s more room to optimise column location and allow for the determined tube span. Further, a reduction in overall row count dramatically reduces the minimum number of standard components and the costs associated with their implementation. For example, a four-string configuration can often reduce motors per site substantially. And obviously, fewer larger motor blocks create greater power density and decreases overall component failure rates.

As international sites around the world grapple with how to get the most out of proposed utility-scale PV plant locations, the ability to extend module rows acts as another tool in finding the optimal configuration, reducing both CAPEX and OPEX, and maximizing power production.


A Shift Toward a Focus on OpEx and Less Assumed Risk by Developers and Owners

Long-term project profitability and financial planning for the lifecycle of a PV plant are key considerations for getting the most value out of a utility-scale project.

The industry’s general focus is shifting from a CAPEX mindset to one more concerned with OPEX and lifetime cost of ownership, particularly as more robust data is made available regarding long-term performance of single-axis solar trackers.

The use of single-axis trackers and strategies aimed at increasing row power density, optimising ground coverage, and boosting range of motion help developers save money over the life of the plant, whereas less robust and more CAPEX-focused solutions are beginning to drain resources less than a decade into operation.

The savings and confidence provided by more stable, longer-term investments could reduce overall risk for EPCs, particularly in places like Australia, where the country is scrambling to find a way to better connect and distribute exploding renewable energy production among a struggling grid. The less risk a plant presents and the more dollars that can be saved to help engineer these connections, the better.


Module Innovation for Difficult Conditions

Around the globe, module size is trending in one direction – bigger. As their size increases, so does their susceptibility to wind damage, which can lead to greater insurance costs and heightened project risk.

Array’s single-axis trackers are equipped to leverage a patented, wind-load mitigation system that doesn’t rely on active stow, sensors, or electricity.

This innovation allows Array trackers to handle high wind speeds, even in the face of increasing module sizes, and innovation as a whole is helping to increase plant efficiency, reduce the risk of weather damage, and create more profitable plants.


Ease of Installation and Operation

Countries and regions working to elevate solar production and accelerate buildout will draw investors, but those investors and EPCs need to lower risk.

Array provides robust project and logistics support, as well as single-axis trackers that feature more than 160 fewer components than traditional solutions.

This, combined with tools in the form of extended rows and solutions for non-optimal terrain, helps EPCs lower labor costs, streamline construction timelines, and leverage the power of experts dedicated to the long-term performance and cost of ownership of PV solar plants.

Array Technologies is dedicated to providing end-to-end support for utility-scale PV power plant projects with global and local teams committed to long-term plant performance and profitability.

To learn more, contact us today.

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