Solar energy PV systems are not standardized products. In every case, solar energy is harnessed through unique personalized projects and each project has its own factors to consider. These factors include:
- Choosing the right installation location
- Selection of appropriate solar components
- Accurate electrical designs
- Regular plant maintenance, and so on.
Solar projects are meant to have a life of at least 25 years. It is extremely important to ensure that the client is enjoying his solar installation at its best performance possible. Let us discuss the 9 things we can do to ensure that our solar installations have the maximum performance.
1. Choosing the Right Site
Not all sites are compatible or make sense to have a solar plant installed. Your roof structure might not be able to withstand the weight, there might not be enough space to set up that a solar plant that’s beneficial enough, there can be obstructions, frequent shading, insufficient irradiance, non-conducive weather, and a variety of other reasons why a site might not be ‘right’.
Ensure that you spend a good amount of time on a site to identify the best location to site up a solar power plant. It is possible to undo a lot of things in a solar project but having chosen the wrong location might not be one of them. To know remotely or from home whether a site is ideal or not, you can use industrial tools to simulate the plant on PVSyst.
2. Optimize the Azimuth and Tilt Angle of the Solar Array
In extremely basic terms, Azimuth angle is the direction the solar arrays are facing, with respect to the North as shown via a compass. The degrees between the North of a compass and the direction your solar panels face is equal to your Azimuth angle.
Due to the movement of the sun, it is a thumb rule that if your solar installation is in the Northern Hemisphere, your array should face true-south and vice versa. Additionally, your Tilt Angle must be equal to or close to the Latitude of your location. In some cases, like when you’re installing a flush-mount system or a ballasted system, you might not have the luxury of choosing your Tilt and Azimuth, but try ensuring that it’s as ideal as it can get, given the constraints in mind. Arranging your solar panels without considering the ideal Tilt and Azimuth angle might lead to an underperforming plant.
3. Configure/Spec the solar array correctly
The amount of power that your PV array can produce versus the amount of power that your other components can process is an important consideration. In the solar industry, It’s very common to find oversized systems aren’t able to match with components and this causes a lot of energy loss. The seamlessness with which your components ‘talk to each other’ is an important marriage that you need to consider while designing and installing a solar plant for your client. Their current and voltage relationships must be considered so that the solar plant’s performance is maximized and optimized.
4. Work within the limits of the utility voltage
While working with grid-connected systems, the limits and codes set by your local utility are second to none. Since the inverters are connected to the grid, the standards and frequency of current distribution are important for your grid-connected solar plant to function well. The voltage delivered by the utility isn’t under your direct control and can fluctuate over time. With these limitations in place, it’s your responsibility to look at these conditions and mitigate the effect on your solar plant, by reducing the voltage drop in the conductors.
5. Selecting the right inverter
Not enough emphasis is enough to state the importance of an inverter in your solar plant. With an inverter responsible for inverting your DC current to AC, it is the crux of your entire solar PV system and makes the entire system usable in the first place.
Inverters can be an informative resort for the client to understand the performance of his solar plant. Ensure that you select an inverter that has a decent monitoring system in-built for the client to constantly monitor the flow of current and voltage. Educate your client about the entire solar energy system and emphasize how he can control the fate of his entire system through the knowledge from the inverter itself. This awareness would directly help in enhancing the solar plant’s performance.
If you need to power just DC loads, do you still need an inverter? Answer more such questions on our ‘Logical Reason with Solar’ quiz!
6. Size your conductors (wires) properly
Your conductors are responsible for transporting the current produced by your solar PV arrays, to the respective loads. Without a technically sound and a correct way of conductors being distributed, while they’re housed in the right conduits, even the best PV modules in the market won’t be able to help you produce an overall efficient solar PV system.
Voltage drops across the system of conductors is another equation that you must consider. There is a thumb rule in the solar industry that your DC side voltage drop should not be more than 2% and the AC side voltage drop shouldn’t be more than 1.5%.
7. Keep your components cool
As the story with all electrical devices or tools, be it your solar panel or your cellphone, they all work best when kept cool. Unlike your solar panels, other components of your solar PV system don’t have to mandatorily be placed under the sun. The more your system is arranged in a manner where your equipment is shaded and have good airflow, the better the performance and the longer the life of your solar power plant.
For example, a common practice in ground-mounted systems is to place the string inverter right underneath your array. This not only is a technically suitable location but also shelters the inverters from the direct sunrays. Alternatively, you could also build some shading structures to keep your inverters and charge controllers from the direct sunlight.
8. Clean the Array periodically
Imagine setting up a solar plant worth thousands of dollars, with cutting-edge technology and with the best engineering minds, and watching it underperform only because you forgot to wipe the dust off the panels? The amount of current that your PV array is able to produce is directly proportional to the amount of sunlight that hits the solar panels.
Depending upon your plant’s location and nature, your cleaning schedule and sophistication of the technology used to clean the panels may be decided. A ground-mounted MW project would collect significantly higher dust than a rooftop project, and hence the technology used to clean it would also vary. Cleaning of modules is generally the client’s responsibility and it should be done in the morning.
9. Annual Array Inspections
Solar PV systems should ideally have a life of 25 years and maintaining them throughout can sound like a big task. It’s not if you realize that they require just 25 annual checks in the whole of 25 years.
Solar PV systems are exposed to all sorts of weather extremes in the form of wind, rain, snow, wires may fly around, metal components may expand and contract, so on and so forth. As an installer, annual checks is your responsibility. You must ensure that all conduits are in good condition to house the conductors, the screws are tightened in, checking the underside for excess dust collection, data is being collected is accurate, so on and so forth.
Designing a well-functioning power plant, with a good understanding of the site, electrical design, and other parameters can require tonnes of know-how that you shouldn’t try learning by yourself or for free. With the right solar training and a good experience on-site, these would however not be a problem for long and you will be ready to install the best solar PV systems for your clients.
If you’re looking to design a technically sound solar power plant for your client, where you have kept international best practices in mind, you could check out our online courses on solar design here!
Until Next Time
- Photovoltaic Design and Installation, Ryan Mayfield
- Reo.online solar training programs