By Claudia Eyzaguirre, co-founder and CEO, PVComplete
When it comes to utility-scale solar project development, careful analysis to ensure project economics pencil out has never been more critical to mitigating risk, ensuring project bankability and realizing returns.
The good news is, as solar design software is becoming more sophisticated, developers have powerful new tools at their fingertips to quantitatively inform portfolio decisions.
By leveraging modern cloud computing and data analytics, leading solar software platforms can generate project layouts for utility-scale projects of any size on complex terrain in minutes. In addition to layout speed, software also improves the accuracy of project modeling with more precise solar engineering and advanced capabilities such as pier analysis. Where historic slope analysis relied on aerial site views and computations of an average grade, the most advanced software platforms now make pier analysis possible, replacing average grade with unique post heights for every pier on a project site.
Greater layout speed and accuracy inform seven essential inputs that are critical to solar developers, including:
- Are you picking the right sites? Solar design software pier analysis eliminates “false positives” and “false negatives” during the site suitability assessment process. Where slope analysis might indicate a site is constructible, on-site realities sometimes prove the opposite. Or, a site might be dismissed because slope analysis reveals an average slope that is slightly more than manufacture specifications allow, when simple post height adjustments along the row could make the project possible. Pier analysis yields a far more reliable measure of site suitability.
- Are you using more steel than you need? Using solar design software pier analysis, every post is sized to the requirements of its unique site location, resulting in less steel and lower material costs than projects for which all piers are manufactured at a uniform height.
- To grade or not to grade? Because pier analysis allows for a more accurate evaluation of post-height, project developers can determine with certainty how material costs for greater post height and/or stronger foundations compare with the cost of site grading.
- Are you buying too many posts? With the ability to rapidly create layouts featuring an unlimited number of different manufacturers, choosing a mounting system based on which manufacturer and model requires the fewest number of foundations or the least amount of steel is now possible.
- Is your equipment the best match for your site? Some trackers and fixed-tilt systems are better suited to uneven terrain. Creating layouts comparing multiple manufacturers will demonstrate with greater accuracy exactly how much of a site is rackable with each mounting system.
- Did you comparison shop before buying? In addition, some solar design software platforms make it easy to determine how modifying structural and electrical components affect system design and performance estimates by computing ground coverage ratio (GCR), kW output capacity and production values with iterative comparisons of thin-film vs. crystalline silicon modules, module efficiency, various tilt angles, portrait vs. landscape module orientation, DC to AC ratios and row spacing alternatives.
- Have you reduced the likelihood of on-site constructability surprises? With pier analysis, every post is sized to spec, eliminating pier-height-related slowdowns during project construction such as on-site adjustments or costly unanticipated grading or custom foundation rework if crews encounter on-site terrain that makes it impossible to install posts within the required range.
By integrating an advanced solar design software platform into the utility-scale project development process, developers are able to realize these seven project advantages and more — evaluating utility-scale projects through a reliable, analytical lens that reveals true project viability, optimizes economics and streamlines constructability.
Claudia Eyzaguirre is co-founder and CEO of solar design software company, PVComplete. PVComplete’s PVCAD Mega software delivers layouts for utility-scale tracker and fixed tilt projects in minutes, no matter the project size.