As the global energy market shifts towards renewable energy sources, Solar PV is quickly becoming an attractive alternative to conventional energy generation.
The Paris treaty has meant that many countries in Europe have an increasing focus on developing renewable energy projects in both the Wind and Solar sectors. Countries such as Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and France are all subsidizing energy prices and this has led to an increase in both the development of Solar PV plants as well as the construction of these projects across Europe.
With this being said, what does it actually take to develop and build a solar PV plant?
The process can be broken down into several stages:
Site Origination / Site Selection
Finding a site for a solar PV project is important, various factors need to be considered, the site needs to be free from shadow and trees and provide good coverage for sunlight. The site also needs to be easily reachable by roads for construction purposes and have easy access to the grid for connection purposes.
The cost of the project must be weighed up, using information about solar isolation, the cost of acquiring the land as well as the interconnection costs and availability of connecting and selling the energy to the grid operator.
The developer or owner must acquire the land or lease it from the land owner or government in this stage.
Engineering & Technology Selection:
Engineering design preparations must take place, a design of the plant will be done with the initial plant layout designed. After this selection of materials and OEM suppliers will take place, price negotiation on material costs for the build will also take place with module manufacturers and other vendors.
Depending on the location of the plant, the cost of this process can be varied, however the local permitting rules and regulations will need to be followed in order to be granted a permit for the build of the project.
PPA / Power Purchase Agreement:
In order to sell the electricity a PPA / Power Purchase Agreement is needed. Therefore one needs to be agreed with the power utility in order to sell the electricity.
A tender is usually put out of EPC contractors to bid on and then and EPC contractor is selected for the build of the project. The equipment for the project will also then be purchased ready for the build phase of the project.
The project then needs to be financed, initially plants require a high level of investment, with around 50-80% of the project being financed.
EPC, Testing and Grid Connection:
The project will then be built by the EPC contractor over a period of months the site is constructed and then commissioned.
At this stage the quality and operational readiness of the plant will be tested, commissioning is done on the plant and then this will be connected to the power grid. Once this is all confirmed, the project is then started up.
Operations & Maintenance:
Once this is then built, either the owner or an outside O&M contractor will take responsibility for the maintenance of the plant during its life cycle and be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the plant so that it produces the maximum amount of energy possible.
So there it is, a brief outline of the life cycle of a Solar PV project, covering its development, construction and overall operational phases.