Solar Plant Owners: Design for Lower Lifetime Electricity Costs

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An EPRI study points to the design of solar power plants as a critical driver of long-term performance and electricity costs.

Because companies that build solar photovoltaic plants often do not own them long-term, they often choose designs that reduce upfront capital costs and meet near-term performance guarantees. However, over the life of the plant this may lead to lower-than-expected generation and higher-than-expected operations and maintenance costs. As utilities increasingly own and manage solar assets, design decisions should consider long-term performance and costs.

EPRI interviewed experts in the solar and electric power industries to compile insights on how various design innovations can improve lifetime plant quality and durability. These included row spacing, racking, cable management, ground and vegetation management, and data monitoring. For example, while grading and graveling an entire plant site is the most expensive ground management option, it can reduce soil erosion and vegetation management costs—and potentially yield a lower levelized cost of electricity.

Robust standards and best practices can help drive effective plant design and reduce performance uncertainty, but the solar industry’s growth has outpaced standards development. As an example, there are no widely accepted practices for plant commissioning or acceptance tests.

The industry is overhauling and implementing standards, and EPRI is working with standards organizations to translate updates into best practices. EPRI’s aim is to inform design decisions based on accurate, objective knowledge of their implications for long-term operational performance and costs.