Jessica Owsianka, engineering student
working with PCL’s Solar division in
Jessica working on site with PCL’s Renewable Solar
Jessica Owsianka, an engineering student working with PCL’s Solar
division in Toronto, has helped design solar farms across North America,
including some of the largest built by PCL. Below are some of her takeaways from
working on solar farm projects.
“When designing a
solar farm, a study of the land and topography is completed to determine the
best solar equipment to optimize the site. Some sites may have constraints like
wetlands, underground utilities, or roads that need to be accounted for. The
team then determines where the project’s electrical station will be located
relative to the approved grid, or power connection,” said Jessica.
The Rules of Tetris
“Once the placement of the project’s electrical station is determined,
it’s time to begin the game of Tetris. Like Tetris, solar farms comprise
blocks. Each block consists of solar panels, an inverter station, and combiner
boxes. These typical blocks are assembled and replicated across the site to
determine how many fit within the site parameters.
Like in Tetris, however, you sometimes end up with blocks that don’t fit.
Some are square, some are rectangular, and some are peculiar shapes. The game
is always easier when all pieces are the same size.
Blocks that don’t fit the size of the site are modified, but these
unique blocks are less economical than the typical block.
At times, I needed to
get very creative as to how I would lay out the blocks and interlock them
together like matching puzzle pieces to hit the project targets,” said Jessica.
“To add to the complexity, each block can hold only
630 solar circuits. These circuits must be grouped in threes, in sets of 30s,
and must be the same size. Teams are therefore constantly trying to fit as many
circuits as possible to ensure efficient energy production to cover project
costs, maximize profits, and avoid overloading.
Once the block layout is done, the game is
almost complete. Connections from the blocks to the substation, called
collector routes, are designed. The shorter and simpler the collector routes
are, the more economical and efficient the project will be.
Solar panels, cable trenches, electrical
equipment, supporting racks, and foundations are then added to complete the design,”
Jessica learned to take the time to plan out
coordination and consider many conceptual options, comparing each one’s
detailed design to the others.
She says to, “Never hold
back any ideas. Put it all on paper, do sketches of rough ideas, create
options, and the most efficient design will come as a result.”