Solar is playing a central role in the global push to reduce carbon emissions and move towards net-zero. In 2019, the global solar energy market was valued at $93 billion and is forecasted to reach $244 billion by 2027. This huge growth is being driven by the rising demand for electricity in developing countries, combined with rapid urbanization.
To meet the demand, solar farms are rapidly spreading across the world, with large-scale facilities being created across the United States, Europe, the Middle East and India, to name just a few.
This rapid expansion is leading to increased innovation in the way solar farms are designed, built and managed.
There are clear variations in the way different countries approach cable management — and these differences have potentially far-reaching implications for the performance, efficiency and ongoing management of solar farms in those locations.
Common cabling methods
String cables are commonly managed above-ground. However, they are often secured using basic tie wraps, rather than full catenary systems. Because tie wraps are not intended for long-term use, they will degrade in a relatively short space of time, leading to failures and increased O&M costs.
In addition, cable ties don’t allow for expansion and contraction of the ground structure, which can cause ties to damage the cable conductor insulation.
For home-run cabling, trenching is still the most commonly employed method, but again, this approach is costly, labor intensive and at risk from unexpected delays.
The alternative is to manage home run cables above-ground, and in the U.S., this is already widely used. However, although it is growing in popularity, this approach is not yet widespread in other markets, such as Europe.
There are many disadvantages to underground cable management, including increased labor and material costs, the time taken to carry out works and the environmental and business disruption caused by excavating and digging trenches.
Regardless of geography and ground type, there is a strong argument for moving all cable management above-ground using advanced catenary systems.
Why switch to above-ground cable management?
Managing cables above-ground has many benefits over underground cabling — namely, speed, cost and ease of access. These advantages apply throughout the life of the site, from initial build through to ongoing maintenance.
Quicker and more cost-efficient
Suspending power cables is much quicker and more cost-effective than underground cabling. Above-ground cable management solutions such as Gripple’s cable management system are designed to be long-lasting, easy to install and maintain, and simple to transport. Most above-ground systems can be installed with minimal training using only hand tools, reducing the need for specialist labor and equipment and leading to significant cost savings.
With no need to break ground or bring heavy plant machinery on site, installing cables above-ground is also quicker, so the site can be up and running in less time than it would take with traditional, underground methods.
As many of the kits are lightweight and easy to handle, logistics and freight costs are also kept to a minimum.
Greater control and less risk
Working underground is unpredictable, with sites being subject to movement, flooding and other environmental changes. They can even be home to local wildlife which can create delays and problems both during install and for ongoing O&M.
Managing cables above-ground offers EPCs more predictability and control, during both installation and with regard to testing and maintenance. Projects are no longer at risk of delays due to soil conditions, flooding or problems with foundations.
Once the installation is complete, ongoing management is easier and more predictable too. With above-ground cable management systems, the risk of ground disturbance and seismic activity is greatly reduced.
With above-ground systems, health and safety risks are also reduced. Installations are usually carried out at chest height, out in the open, which removes the risks involved with working in trenches. Most above-ground systems include a catenary line to support electrical/data cables. This can be easily mounted directly to the ground-mount structure with additional support from ancillary piles if needed. Contractors simply install and tension the catenary line and attach the specially designed hangers using hand tools, then simply drop in the cables. It’s as easy as that.
Above-ground cabling opens up new opportunities for developing land such as brownfields and landfills — sites that wouldn’t previously have been available for development because of their unsuitability for trenching.
Once the installation is complete, ongoing O&M is much easier too. With above-ground cable management systems, maintenance teams can quickly locate and address any issues, minimizing downtime and lost revenue.
In addition, having that visibility and direct access makes upgrading or expanding a site much more straightforward too.
Selecting a catenary system
Catenary systems are designed to be used above-ground and can be used for both home run and string cable management, while avoiding all the problems that are associated with less-sophisticated cable ties. They protect against abrasion and are designed to last for the lifetime of the project.
It is important to choose a system that is quick to install and to consider the type of catenary tensioner. Many use turnbuckles, which can be difficult and time consuming. By contrast, the Gripple system uses a Dynamic wire joiner, which takes just seconds to install and tension with a Gripple Torq Tool.
Look carefully at the design of the hanger — some simple versions have the potential to cause cable damage due to low surface areas causing pinch points. Hangers should have a broad surface area and feature side loading, in order to minimize potential cable issues during or after installation.
Finally, consider the reliability of your chosen supplier. If you’re managing large-scale installations, do they have the experience, stability and manufacturing capability to support the rollout and management of your global projects over the long term?
Above-ground cable management for solar farms and facilities is becoming more prevalent both in the U.S. and across the globe, with innovative new cable management systems making installation and management far easier and more cost-effective.
It’s clear to see that the future’s bright for solar — and when it comes to cable management, above-ground systems are proving to be the superior choice.
Abelardo Partida says
Above ground cable installation is definitely cost effective & would definitely speed up the process.
Would like to know if there is any risk when energized & how we are mitigating.