Delivering utility-scale solar projects is no easy task. Those neatly aligned rows of solar panels stretching to the horizon may look simple and elegant, but underneath is a foundation of planning, innovation, technology, safe and efficient construction and data. Having built nearly 60 solar projects across North America and Australia, PCL Solar has brought together the right teams to find the best way forward and elevate our client's vision of success.
Shakes Solar is a 270 MW (DC) photovoltaic power station in Carrizo Springs, Texas. PCL Solar worked with a manufacturer to develop pre-kitted combiner box assemblies with weather heads and pre-terminated and pre-cut length DC cable. This method provided financial savings of 72% and reduced installation time by three times.
Ensuring an economically successful project for clients is PCL Solar's driving motivation. Each project goes through dozens of iterations during the design phase. Drawing on our experience and in-house expertise, our teams run the numbers to ensure the best possible series of metrics (such as the Levelized Cost of Electricity, uptime, capacity factor, long-term performance, etc.) for each specific site. This care and attention to detail ensures the best possible return on investment to the owner.
We consider the return on investment for a “fixed tilt” system, where the panels are completely stationary, versus a system on “trackers,” which rotate the panels from east to west during the day. We analyze variables such as potential inverter and PV module combinations, land requirements, the site’s topography and the options of bi-facial or mono-facial panels.
Using custom-designed 3D modelling software to analyze the options, hundreds of design tweaks can be made to determine the sweet spot, where the capital investment provides the best possible return for the client. “We don’t have opinions,” says PCL Solar’s director of engineering, Walter Schachtschneider. “We have data.”
As of the second quarter of 2023, PCL Solar had built 60.5% of the solar projects (by nameplate capacity) in Alberta, Canada. Those facilities produced 63% of the solar electricity in the province, giving a higher-than-average capacity factor. Travers Solar consistently has the best average capacity factor of any project in the province.
PCL Solar brings its collaborative and solutions-oriented approach to overcoming any obstacles or limitations a client may face. At the 692 MW (DC) Travers Solar project in Alberta, Canada, PCL Solar designed an entirely new, high-amperage combiner box (an electrical component where small cables from photovoltaic modules are combined into larger ones).
At the time, the industry standard was single-string combiner boxes where, for example, 24 strings of positive cables entered the combiner box and 24 negative cables went back. The maximum capacity was 400 amps.
“We asked, how do we make that more efficient and inexpensive?” says Andrew Fleetwood, chief estimator, PCL Solar. “We looked at products on the market but couldn’t find what we needed, so we made our own 600-amp box and combined 48 cables into eight positive and eight negative, so one-third the number.” This reduced the amount of cable needed by about 30%. “When you add it all up, it let us reduce the cost by more than $2 million.”
PCL Solar consistently delivers innovation for our clients. In Carrizo Springs, Texas, our project team went a step further with the 270 MW (DC) Shakes Solar project. There were quality risks and inherent inefficiencies associated with the conventional installation of combiner boxes and string wire assemblies because of the project’s size and tight schedule. The project team partnered with the manufacturer to develop pre-kitted combiner box assemblies with weather heads and pre-terminated, pre-cut DC cable. Through collaboration and innovative solutions, this method provided financial savings of 72% and reduced installation time to one-third.
The team at Shakes also pioneered the use of trenchless cable installation. The large size of the project and the tight schedule would not allow the traditional trenching method for installation of Medium Voltage AC, which involves the excavation of large trenches that are kept open until all the cables (MVAC, fiber and ground) are laid. They are then backfilled and compacted, which takes time, labor and equipment hours.
The trenchless approach consisted of specialized equipment capable of consistently installing cables, ground wire and burial tape at design depths, all while backfilling simultaneously. This method was safer than using open trenches, took half the time of the traditional method and resulted in budget savings of 70%.
The 60-MW (DC) Southgate Solar project is on rolling hills in Ontario, Canada. It’s a perfect location for grazing sheep, but not so much for solar projects. PCL Solar worked with a manufacturer to build custom racks that follow the curves of the hill, reducing the need for ground leveling by more than 200,000 cubic yards, saving money and time and reducing environmental impact.
Every monitored piece of equipment in a utility-scale solar project feeds thousands of data points back to the operator about the system’s status, production and efficiency. This data tells the operator if any trackers or combiner boxes are underperforming and need to be fixed. Data analysis can tell when a cloud passes overhead, or the grass has grown tall enough to block sunlight and needs trimming, which help ensure that the correct fix is applied.
This data can be read, interpreted and acted upon to ensure the best possible performance of the solar facility. It can also be used to precisely measure a facility’s output and various performance metrics, ensuring that clients know how it is performing at all times.
PCL Solar also improved the quality control of solar projects by using aerial thermography to look for “hot spots” in a system, where energy is being released rather than sent to the revenue meter. Thermal scans flag all electrical and many other problems from the sky, increasing efficiency and operational performance.
PCL Solar’s ability to provide complete solutions for clients includes building and commissioning electrical substations to tie into the distribution network and the construction of Battery Energy Storage Systems. BESS contributes to net-zero emissions by minimizing the grid impacts of intermittent renewable energy power sources, allowing for more seamless and efficient renewable energy deployment.
These innovations and areas of expertise have allowed PCL Solar to become one of the top EPC contractors of utility-scale solar projects across North America and Australia.
PCL Solar’s growing team of experts will be there for clients every step of the way, proud to be working towards a net zero future together through continuous improvements in our planning, innovation, technology, construction and data analysis.
At 692 megawatts (DC), Travers Solar is the largest solar project in Canada to date, generating enough electricity annually to power the equivalent of about 100,000 homes. To see Travers Solar’s current production (pun intended), visit dispatcho.app.