Solar PV arrays are a common site across Australia and the world, and as the technology becomes cheaper and more accessible they become more common.
Over 3 million PV panels were installed across Australia in 2018. This continues to increase as solar capacity grows at 50% per year, making solar the fastest growing renewable energy generation source.
The incumbent and traditional energy supply modes are well established and management and maintenance of these generation types is well documented.
Fossil fuels formed the backbone of Australia’s centralised electricity grid, however, market forces led by cost are changing the generation landscape.
Renewables now make up over 22% of the grid supply. In addition, micro-grids and stand-alone systems are becoming more prevalent – especially in more remote geographies like Western Australia.
A small-scale solar PV system is commonly defined as +1kW to 99kW, medium-scale as between 100kW and 5MW, and large or utility scale as above 5MW, and can reach over 1GW as seen in the United Arab Emirates.
As systems scale, and particularly those above 1MW, there can be thousands of PV panels, hundreds of inverters, kilometres of wiring, and significant HV infrastructure for grid connection. In short, a large and complex system.
Large scale solar generation investment is usually underpinned by a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) where the output is sold at a predescribed rate. For the solar asset owner, generating the maximum output is crucial in realising the targeted ROI of the asset.
Any rate of return is first and foremost calculated based on the panel manufacturers’ Standard Test Condition (STC) results. This makes panel performance critical to the entire commercial outcome for the developer or asset owner.
Throughout the commissioning of a solar PV system, a range of defects and issues can create an adverse outcome for the system and its resulting ability to achieve maximum output.
PV panel damage during transport or installation can result in visible and non-visible defects.
In addition, poor connectors, mismatched connectors, damaged wiring, visible and non-visible panel damage and incorrect design parameters can add to output and financial impacts.
The below table provides an illustrative but realistic scenario for an off-grid solar PV array.
Based on a 10MW array