Today’s solar power plants are vetted to replace part of conventional grid electricity generation. In the year 2016-2017, solar power in India produced a little above one percent of the total electricity requirement of 1,038 kWh. Part of the problem might be a lack of understanding into the performance, capital costs, maintenance costs over the lifetime of the solar power plant and understanding what technology works best where. Here, some of the industry terminologies used to assess solar power plant efficiency are introduced. Along the article, modern solar technology developments that drastically increase the efficiency of solar power plants by a significant percentage are also suggested. Industry terminologies used in solar power plant design
1.Levelized Cost Of Energy (LCOE)
LCOE is a solar power plant trade term used frequently in North America and parts of Europe and is used to measure lifetime costs divided by energy production . Its designated units are $/kWh where $ here represents all costs incurred during construction of PV plant, Operational and Maintenance costs incurred at present annual period. kWh here represents the total energy produced by a solar power plant over its entire lifetime (15-20 years would be a safe number). LCOE of solar PV(fixed tilt, single-axis, dual-axis) is lower than Wind offshore, with LCOE being a good metric to compare energy technologies .
2.Ground Coverage Ratio (GCR)
Ground Coverage Ratio is the area covered by the solar panels to the total area allotted to the solar power plant. A relaxed GCR would lead to more land being used for the power plant but higher amounts of solar energy being produced. There are some physical constraints to limit stuffing panel rows together because of shadowing effects caused by the solar panels in-front east facing direction.
The more panels you pack per row of solar panel installations, the more is the power density. Wind forces have been notorious for destroying or laying waste to solar fields the world over, the reason being that solar panels fitted together on a row could very well simulate an airplane wing. Proper spacing between panels to reduce drag is considered good design, along with counter-weights.
4.Balance Of System
Bolting down solar panels to the metal structure and the ground connecting multiple panels together to route the electricity to the junction boxed or the inverters, the inverters and charge controllers themselves, batteries to store the electricity all comprise of the additional cost the plant will incur on the buyer. All needed for good reasons.
Tilt angles of static non-moving solar panels are usually aligned at the latitude of the location where the panels are being installed in and there is a specific formula depending on which hemisphere you are in.
Shading losses could either be from shading from solar panel rows in front or from vegetation growth in between the solar array rows. Solar PV power plants are designed to deliver based on inverter input voltages and if even a few of panel arrays on the string delivers lesser than required, then this has a cascading effect and the overall inverter output will be dictated by the weakest shaded solar array/panel. A general calculation can be performed, and you will find that increasing the panel power packing density has a much greater impact on LCOE than any of the other optimizations, like GCR, tilt angle etc.
Next generation of solar power plants- Solar trackers:
Solar PV panels are meant to face the sun. What better way to make sure this happens using mechanized versions of sunflowers called solar trackers. Solar trackers are getting more and more viable these days. Efficiency increases range from 15% to as much as 40%, depending on how the panels follow the sun. Structural improvements make sure that frame costs are lower and more panels can be packed into the same space as before. Power density has a major effect on the solar production output than GCR or tilt angle. O&M costs reduce further with local sourcing taking place. With unit prices of solar dropping even further, the goal of solar power plants would be pumping more back to the grid and getting returns faster.