Jaam nguen fanane Everyone! Nanguen def*?
After refreshing our mind on the concept of Energy and presenting the first key component of a successful solar project, let’s continue with the second. It is all about implementing the project in an effective way. If you are like me, yes you could sometimes hear cynical and loud voices in your head saying that you do not need to worry as usually businesses will employ project managers that will look after it on your behalf. That is true. However I would invite you to gently push back and remember that it not about delivering the job yourself here, unless you feel the burning desire (no pun intended), but to understand the process to deliver the outcome you expect in order to hold the solar developer and contractor accountable.
Think about permits and licenses
The objective of the process is to complete the project on schedule and within the allocated budget, with a PV power plant that operates efficiently and reliably, and generates the expected volumes of energy and revenue.
At this stage, the developer needs to obtain all the permits and licenses necessary for the project. This is a bureaucratic task that could be very tedious as it involves dealing with multiple agencies in central and local administrations. As it usually the case, in many countries worldwide, procedures and requirements are not always coordinated. Looking at it from a positive angle that teaches you not to take anything for granted and stay alert! A life skill!
The different permits and licenses that you would need to secure would typically be: land lease agreement, site access permit, building permits, grid connection and last but not the least operation and generation licenses. It would be unwise and certainly not impressive to do all the heavy lifting and build the solar PV plant only to find out your system is not allowed generating electricity as your company has failed to comply with the rules by not purchasing the required licenses. I am sure both the company and you would turn down the free publicity offer.
They should be completed early and actions should be taken to mitigate potential adverse impacts. The climate of the location needs to be assessed very carefully. In windy areas like along the coasts up in the North, the East and the South of Africa, the system will need to resist the uplift. In the tropical areas like the Gulf of Guinea, the system will required to be waterproof to sustain the heavy and generous rains.
On the social level, the impacts of the installations on the society should clearly be assessed. We would certainly expect the developer to engage with the local community to discuss about the wider implications of the project and action a mitigation plan for issues identified. An example of issue could be the impact of glare from PV modules on neighbouring businesses or residences. Another issue that should not be neglected is ensuring the monitoring and security of the plant. Unfortunately it has been experienced that some “over-enthusiastic” solar sympathisers do take the unilateral decision to borrow some modules but with no intention of returning them. Surveillance of the site would certainly help to avoid this kind of regrettable incidents.
For small rooftop systems, there is often very little permitting required, other than perhaps residential construction. Aspects of the approval process are generally less onerous due to the PV array having zero land impact, and therefore less effect on fauna or flora.
Engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) strategy
The construction of the actual solar plant is performed by the contractors. This step that involves engineering, procurement and construction, could be split into a multiple contracts strategy. However,
the industry best practice approach is to give full responsibility to one company, the EPC contractor, who is assuming all the risks.
Unlike a diesel generator, every solar system is custom built and the performance of the installation is very reliant on the competence and experience of the solar contractor. You should then make sure to select an appropriate partner.
The EPC contractor validates the early design of the solar installations and also details such as the correct tilt angle of the solar panels, the orientation, and the fixed or tracking mounting systems. Shadowing will be either avoided completely or minimised as it affects dramatically the performances.
Operation and maintenance strategy
Establishing an operation and maintenance strategy is a mandatory requirement to ensure the longevity and effectiveness of the PV array. Compared to other power plants, solar installations are relatively easy to maintain. Regular maintenance activities like modules cleaning, repairs, spares parts inventory management could be performed by the owner, or contractors, or even by local staff trained by the equipment suppliers. Monitoring of plant performance can be achieved remotely by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or other asset manager.
Experience has demonstrated that many private off-takers, ranging from individuals, to businesses that are expressing various degrees of dissatisfaction with their installed solar systems, have not made provision for an operation and maintenance plan. This problem would even be more acute in hot countries (e.g. Chad) for off-grid solar applications that are using batteries storage. With no maintenance, not only they face the issue of panel degradation, but also the battery life will be shorter than expected (half, or even less) due to the temperature effect.
All these steps are in a nutshell the important elements that should be accounted for when you are thinking of rolling out a successful project implementation. Like any infrastructure project, you could and would probably still face some hurdles but by having a better knowledge of the process, you will be better prepared.
In the next post, we will be looking at the last component. Until then, take care of yourself and look after our planet…Switch this device off when you’re done!!
* Jaam nguen fanane, nanguen def?: “Good Morning, how are you?” in Wolof, language spoken in Senegal and The Gambia.
For an effective implementation, you need:
- Permits and licences to secure
- Environmental assessments to perform
- Social assessments to carry out
- EPC: multi-contract or single contract strategy to be decided.
- Choice of EPC contractor(s) is essential
- Operation & maintenance plan to design
- Energy Science, Principles, Technologies, and Impacts, 2nd Edition – John Andrews, Nick Jelley
- Photovoltaic Solar Power Course – Prof John I B Wilson, Heriott Watt University
- Sustainable Energy – Without the hot air – David JC MacKay
- Utility-Scale Solar Photovoltaic Power Plants – A Project Developer Guide – IFC 2015