A Bright Future Ahead

The game of Tetris can serve as an analogy for designing a solar farm. The first step is to understand all the rules, and there are many!
Jessica Owsianka, engineering student
working with PCL’s Solar division in

Jessica working on site with PCL’s Renewable Solar
design team. 

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.

Setting Up

“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,” said Jessica.

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.”

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