Solar Project Development, The Importance of Experience

The path to developing a solar farm can be long, winding, and risky.  Like most large-scale land development projects there are the permitting and financing issues.  Unique to solar is the multiplication of impacts a small miscalculation can impart.  By analogy, in the car industry, a miscalculation in the design of a component can lead to vehicle recalls costing many tens of millions of dollars.  In a solar project, a small technical miscalculation can change an investment from a winner to a loser.

Land development has been around for a long time and follows well established practices.  There are lots of people from commercial real estate and other industries who are entering the solar development arena because of current market opportunities.  Aiding these folks are software programs such as PVSYSTTM  and PlantPredictTM.   What is often lacking is the input of experience that avoids costly, or even financially disastrous miscalculations.

What The Software Can’t Tell You

“What is the buildable area?” is the most frequent question asked, and rightfully so as this has the strongest influence on power output, and therefore project financial viability.  The typical answer from the Geotechnical and Civil engineers is “that depends”, and this is where simply putting parameters into a software program falls short.  These two engineers can look together at the wetland, slope, drainage, and soil conditions and can suggest strategies and mitigations.  We have all seen how “one good idea” can change a loosing situation into a winning one, and that can apply here as well. 

“It all looks good on paper” is what the Construction Project Manager might say to those engineers.  Having a person with construction field experience giving input in the development phase is something typically overlooked by a person new to solar farm development.  Experienced solar developers and owners know that it is wise to consider factors that can impact construction schedules and cost.

The Optimization Balancing Act

Solar Project Optimization requires understanding what optimizes the Civil design, the Electrical design, (low, medium, and high voltages), structural design, and materials selection.  Optimization parameters can be in opposition to one another.  For example, optimizing the Civil grading plan may require more complex electrical layouts and more expensive tracker systems.  Sub-optimizing the Civil design in favor of the tracker selection can lead to complexities and cost in the structural (pile) design.  Add to these any special environmental or land use restrictions and you have the proverbial “Rubik’s cube” problem to solve.  Here also is where an experienced, multi-discipline team is essential. 

Inexpensive Insurance

It is not uncommon for a person to seek advice from a financial consultant, lawyer, or physician to get specialized, expert information or advice that they may not be able to find on the internet.  This is also true for solar project development.  There are companies, like RRC, that have the experience, the diversity of talent, and willingness to help developers to be successful, and typically for not a lot of cost.  As the complex circumstances of potential solar project sites increases, so to does the wisdom of including a team of experienced professionals to help you successfully navigate the journey.

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