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How to build PV Solar Plant

26.08.2017 — 0

The entire process of PV plant explained, step by step. From the very beginning till the end across all proceedures. Let’s get started!

The process of PV solar plants construction is a complex endeavour involving considerable amounts of time, money, and expertise. It can be broken down into several stages:

  1. Identifying the location
  2. Determining the grid connection point
  3. Pre-construction documentation & negotiations
  4. Infrastructure (roads, fence, security)
  5. Purchase of equipment & logistics
  6. Mounting of the supporting structures
  7. Solar panels and inverters installation & connection
  8. Setting up the transformer substation
  9. Connection to the grid
  10. Monitoring system setup

Each stage brings new economically relevant information, so that the developer can update the estimates of anticipated performance, output, and costs of the PV solar power plant, as well the figures for expected financial returns.

1. Identifying the location

Before the construction process commences, one needs to identify the place to build the PV solar station and determine the point of connection to the grid. Thus, initially, Solar DAO will plan the project and obtain planning and connection consents from the local authorities.

The planning approval from the local authorities is the first major milestone in the whole process. PV solar plants require considerable space, because large arrays of solar panels need to be exposed to the sunlight. In practice, PV solar power plants occupy at least one hectare of area per 1 MWh of output, which requires an approval from the local administration. The project plan usually is subject to a complex health, safety and environmental audit as well.

2. Determining the grid connection point

The second major consideration in the planning of a new solar park concerns the availability, location, and capacity of the grid connection. Usually, the connection point is provided by the local authorities. However, several important issues need to be negotiated, due to the major impact of the grid connection point on the project’s costs and future revenue.

First, the grid network must be capable of absorbing the output of the PV solar station at its full capacity. Second, the project developer needs to be able to meet the cost requirements of providing power lines to the connection point, as well as additional costs that may be involved in the upgrading of the grid to make it suitable for absorbing the plant’s energy.

These costs can be eliminated by careful planning and established partnerships with grid operators in the target regions. That is why Solar DAO is going to build PV solar plants in proven jurisdictions with transparent rules and good ongoing business relationships (e.g. in Kazakhstan).

3. Pre-construction documentation & negotiations

This stage involves several equally important milestones, including obtaining the land rights, project documentation development, and obtaining the construction approval. During this stage the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is also signed, ensuring the long-term demand for the PV solar plant’s output.

After the legal and contract matters are settled, the infrastructure is getting built, including roads and factory walls; the project developer also hires security staff. Once the infrastructure is in place, the next task is to purchase the equipment and provide logistical support for its delivery.

The following list illustrates the sequence of project development stages as outlined by International Financial Corporation:

  1. Site Identification / Concept: identification of potential site(s), funding of the project development, rough technical concept development;
  2. Pre-feasibility study: assessment of differently, approximate cost/benefit analysis, assessment of different technical options, permitting needs, market assessment;
  3. Feasibility study: technical and financial evaluation of the preferred option, assessment of financing options, initiation of permitting process, development of rough technical concept, first contact with project development;
  4. Financing / Contracts: permitting, contracting strategy, supplier selection and contract negotiation, financing of project, due diligence, financing concept;
  5. **Detailed design: **preparation of detailed design for all relevant lots, preparation of project implementation schedule, finalization of permitting process, loan agreement;
  6. Construction: construction supervision, independent technical review of construction;
  7. Commissioning: performance testing, preparation of as-built-design (if required), Independent review of commissioning

4. Construction of the plant

The actual construction process is usually outsourced to one or more contractors who do the engineering, procurement, and construction work (EPC). The process involves all the major and necessary elements that the PV solar plants consist in.

PV solar plants use ground mounting systems of solar panels. The advantage of the ground mounting system, as compared to the roof-based solar panels systems, is that no two roofs are exactly alike, which significantly limits the possibilities of standardization. Conversely, the ground-mount systems offer much faster installation times, since much of the work can be done in advance.

Moreover, ground-mount systems have much easier access and do not entail staging and logistical challenges and costs of the roof-systems. The latter are less expensive in terms of site costs, but are more labor-intensive and have higher logistical costs. On the contrary, ground-mount systems require more upfront investment for site preparation, but the actual installation process is less complicated. Finally, ground-mount systems are more efficient and more scalable.

Solar panels are mounted on supporting structures made of aluminium profiles and stainless steel fasteners. Solar DAO usually applies fixed structures with a fixed angle of solar panel installation, which helps reducing construction and operating expenses.

In general, there are four main types of foundations that are commonly used: driven piles, helical piles, earth-screws, and ballasted foundations, as represented on the picture below:

Usually driven piles supports are used in large PV solar plants, being too costly for medium-sized and small ones. Concrete strip foundations can also be used, made of concrete blocks or constructed on site. The choice ultimately depends upon costs considerations and ground conditions. Driven piles are the simplest and least expensive foundations.

Aluminium supports are then being fastened to foundations which carry crossbeams to which the PV modules are fastened. The panels are also equipped with trackers that allow to optimize the utilization of solar irradiation. Dual-axis tracker allows to generate up to 45% more energy than a fixed system of a similar size.

5. Post-construction stage

In that stage the PV solar plant gets connected to the grid as agreed with the local authorities during the pre-construction negotiations. The monitoring systems also enters the play, being installed and set up for a remote monitoring of the plant’s operation.

The project developer can enter into a contract with a local subcontractor to undertake the operation and maintenance (O&M) of the station. However, in the case of Solar DAO the investment fund itself will be in charge of the O&M and remote monitoring. Generally, solar panels require minimal maintenance, being a reliable solid-state system, as compared to rotating machinery. Solar DAO’s solar panels made of crystalline silicon have a guaranteed duration of service of 10 years.

The entire process can be illustrated by the following summary picture by First Solar:

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