January 31, 2023

Mastering Utility-Scale Solar Projects

Mastering Utility-Scale Solar Projects

Large utility-scale solar projects can be excellent business opportunities when they’re designed thoughtfully, with a long-term approach that takes into account scale, financial impact, and continuing advancements within the renewable energy space.

As more companies look at how to invest in utility-scale solar projects, there’s growing demand for experienced solar engineer consultants like KMB.

If you’ve considered making this type of investment, here are some considerations to keep in mind.

What Is Utility-Scale Solar?

Utility-scale solar projects are large-scale solar power facilities that generate electricity for the grid. The threshold for what is considered “utility-scale” depends on the market. However, to fall into this category a project must generally be at least 5 megawatt (MW) in size. On the lowest end, these projects typically have a capacity of at least 1 MW. The electricity generated by large-scale solar projects is sold to utilities or other large energy consumers, such as businesses and government entities.

Scale is an essential part of any renewable energy project. Getting the scale correct means maximizing the advantages that come with size. That can be a challenge in some cases, which is why solar engineer consultants like KMB are often hired to assess and optimize utility-scale projects.

In order to ensure optimal return-on-investment (ROI), businesses should think holistically, with a long-term approach. They must also understand the financial impact that comes with competing in a tight PV market.

Advantages of Scale in Solar

One of the main advantages of utility-scale solar projects is their ability to generate significant amounts of electricity. These projects can provide a reliable source of renewable energy to the grid, helping to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. They also have the potential to create jobs in the construction and maintenance of the facility, as well as in the manufacturing of solar panels and other components.

Utility-scale solar projects can be built on a variety of land types, including deserts, farmland, and brownfields. This allows for the development of solar power in areas where other forms of energy production may not be feasible. Additionally, many utility-scale solar projects are built in remote areas, which reduces the visual impact on surrounding communities.

However, utility-scale solar projects also have some minor disadvantages. One of the main challenges is the cost of these projects, as they require a significant investment in the initial construction. Additionally, the large project size can lead to conflicts with local communities, particularly in regards to land use and potential impacts on wildlife.

Building Blocks When Developing Utility-Scale Solar Projects

Three key themes are present in nearly every utility-scale solar project. These are:

1. Optimizing the Power Plant Design

One of the biggest project development challenges when designing PV power plants has to do with finding the optimal balance of time and performance for an individual site. Site selection should always be made under the guidance of a solar engineer consulting team.

2. Project Implementation

Solar engineer consultants are often brought in to ensure projects are completed on time and within budget. Solar engineer consultants are also hired to review project designs and confirm that submitted proposals can actually generate the energy and revenue that’s projected.

3. Commercial and Financing Details

Does a utility-scale solar project meet the regulatory framework to receive certain types of incentives, such as preferential tax treatment and other direct financial support? This is a key theme that comes up in nearly every PV project, and it is one of the reasons why developers will seek out guidance from qualified solar engineer consultants.

Growing Popularity of Utility-Scale Solar

Competition in the solar engineering space has never been stronger. According to industry estimates, installed capacity will need to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11% to 19% through 2030 in order to meet the global demand for clean energy.

As technology improves and costs decrease, it is expected that the number of utility-scale solar projects will continue to increase. Furthermore, with the growing need for renewable energy sources to combat climate change, utility-scale solar projects will play a crucial role in the transition to a more sustainable energy future.

Spending on renewable energy already exceeds spending on new fossil fuel and nuclear power generation, and it’s expected to surpass investments in oil and gas in the near future, as well.

Solar Engineer Consultants Bring Value to Utility-Scale Projects

Investors will see several advantages to working with a solar engineering consultant on utility-scale solar projects, including:

Expertise: Solar engineering consultants have extensive knowledge and experience in the design, construction, and operation of utility-scale PV projects. They can provide valuable insight and guidance throughout the project, helping to ensure it is completed on time and within budget.

Cost Savings: By working with a solar engineering consultant, developers can often save money on a project by identifying potential issues and finding cost-effective solutions early on.

Improved Project Performance: A solar engineering consultant can help to optimize the design and operation of a utility-scale PV project, which can lead to improved performance and increased energy production.

Navigating Regulations: Solar engineering consultants are familiar with the regulations and permitting processes related to large-scale solar projects. They can assist developers in navigating the complex legal and regulatory landscape, helping to ensure compliance and avoid delays.

Independent Assessment: Consultants can provide an independent assessment of a project, which is useful for identifying any potential issues before work begins.

Professional Network: Solar Engineering consultants have a professional network, who can help to provide additional resources and support for the project, such as suppliers and contractors, which can be beneficial for the developer.

Working with a solar engineering consultant on a utility-scale solar project can provide valuable expertise and guidance, helping to save money and increase energy production, which can be beneficial for the success of any project.

Opportunities for Expansion in Solar

In today’s competitive landscape, investors must be deliberate in how they pursue solar building. It’s critical that investors recognize that scale has several dimensions. The value that scale brings to a solar project will depend on the technology that’s used, along with market conditions, business model, and relative assets.

Experienced solar engineer consultants are able to mitigate the risks involved in investing in utility-scale solar projects, so clients have the highest chances of achieving a positive ROI. Consultants with industry connections often have access to better sites, and they can lean on existing relationships and the latest bidding techniques to achieve greater operational savings.

Investors working on their own don’t have access to the technologies that are necessary to aggressively scale, and they should think carefully about how to utilize investments for maximum firepower.

Key Takeaways

Utility-scale solar projects have the potential to generate a significant amount of electricity for the grid, and provide a reliable source of renewable energy. However, these projects have their own challenges and limitations, such as the cost and potential impact on neighboring communities. Nevertheless, with the growing need for renewable energy sources in the U.S> and abroad, utility-scale solar projects are expected to play a vital role in the transition to a sustainable energy future.

KMB Design Group is a leading engineering consulting firm providing solar design services to developers throughout the United States. To learn more about KMB’s commitment to excellence in renewable energy, click here.

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