Video: time is of the essence for PV project quality

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With the Australian PV market set to double total cumulative installed solar capacity in the years 2018 and 2019, there is no better time to put the discussion of project and component quality in the forefront. At the Quality Roundtable event held last month at the All Energy Australia show participants heard how the rapid growth of the utility scale is causing challenges not only for AEMO and regulators, but also causing a rethink in how quality is controlled.

 

“I think we’re getting there, it is very typical in maturing markets that it takes some time in the beginning, and investors come in and say ‘I’m going to trust a tier one supplier’ but in the end they realize there are some pitfalls and high costs in the end [from faulty or substandard modules‘],” said Anika Giller, from Clean Energy Associates. “With all the defects we are observing clients basically go back and say, ‘we basically need to go upstream and understand a little bit better the technologies, the suppliers we want to work with and take better care of the quality.’”

Marty Rogers, Nextracker’s VP of Global Asset Management and Support, set out the role of big data, and analytics, in not only determining where and when faults occur, but also when best to fix them.

“[It’s important to] Look at data and understand what it tells you,” said Rogers. “It is nice to know [a problem] is coming up and get ahead of that, but it’s also nice to know the value of that data. We’re not talking about the mom-and-pop rooftop solar anymore, where it is if one or panels go down that is kinda crictial. Now were talking about large scale utility, where if one tracker goes down you don’t want to roll a truck to fix that one tracker. The data can’t just say something broke, but the data has to say something may break and here’s what’s going on and the data should also say here is the most economical time to fix what’s going wrong.”

Rogers pointed to the role of digital technology in delivering PV assets that meet the needs of the grid. He suggested that Nextracker’s TrueCapture optimisation technology allows for more production during the morning and evening ‘shoulders’, by preventing row-to-row shading and optimizing power output. He also argued for a bigger role for data in measuring park performance and scheduling O&M.

Aaron Zadeh, the Product Marketing Manager for Utility Solar at ABB addressed the current delays to final AEMO acceptance on new large scale solar assets being experienced in the Australian market. Zadeh says that it is “quite common” for the ABB team to have discussions, “with project developers that experiencing delays and lack of support to complete their performance standard study – which shows how deep the delay problems are in Australia.”

Zadeh explained that problem can be encountered when initial modelling data as to the power output of the PV array, known as R1 does not match the actual data, as the power plant is powered up and actual performance, or R2. “With the delays in completing the grid connection studies and concerns recently raised around the risks at the R2 testing phase and potential financial difficulties due to lack of connection approval, it is crucial to foresee the matter right at the R1 stage.”

ABB proposes its “framework model approach” as a potential solution that utilizes one root model across different platforms – PSSE, DigSilent Power Factory, PSCAD – and “that is verified against real hardware performance in full scale measurements.” The result, Zadeh suggests, is more accurate models at R1 stage, facilitating quicker acceptance at R2.

“The modelling challenges and GPS studies being delayed have provided a unique opportunity for ABB to step in and with its 1:1 modelling approach address many of the problems and win a number of projects totalling in excess of 1 GW.”

To the rooftop

The first session at the Quality Roundtable at All Energy Australia focused on rooftop applications. With around 1.6 GW of rooftop applications expected to be completed in 2018, reports were that the rush to install was undermining quality.

Two case studies of poor rooftop PV quality were presented: One a multifaceted story of a home owner in Western Australia, who was left with a largely useless 1.5 kW system, installed on a west-facing roof with a long-failed, likely second-hand, inverter. He dodged a fraudulent outfit, had little luck in having his inverter replaced, and was left feeling disillusioned with the solar sector. “I would like to expand my system and include battery storage, but with so many offers being advertised at such a wide variance in prices and probably quality, after my experience… I can’t trust anyone.”

The second case was presented by Geoff Bragg, a Director of the Smart Energy Council, who had inspected a 162kWp rooftop system, installed at an aged care facility. What Bragg found and reported to the Roundtable was an installation with a host of installation faults, which ranged from inverters installed adjacent to hot AC intakes, clips fastened more than 600cm from the end of the module, MC4 compatible connectors, and hasty, overloaded, and downright dangerous cabling.

“I think the pressure on electricians to install as many systems as possible so they can make a living and the unethical sales methods of telemarketers, as well as door knocking sales people, has led to a fall in ethics in our industry,” said Durmus Yildiz the Managing Director of distributor Baywa r.e. Solar Systems.