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Transparency and Better Forecasting Tools Needed for the Solar Industry

According to speakers at a Renewable Energy World Conference session on Successful Solar Development, developers and financiers of solar projects would benefit from greater transparency into manufacturing lines. In addition, as utilities add increasing amounts of solar power into their power mixes, independent system operators will need more sophisticated tools to accurately forecast how much solar power their systems will be able to use at any given moment.

Jenya Meydbray, CEO of PV Evolution Labs explained that as manufacturers have become squeezed with falling prices and reduced demand, many are looking to reduce production costs, which may lead to cutting corners, he said.  PV Evolution Labs, in partnership with SolarBuyer is proposing that the industry adopt an Approved Vendor Standard, which would perform factory audits and module testing. Meydbray said this is common practice in more mature industry like semiconductors and traditional power generation.

According to Meydbray, his company started performing independent testing on modules in 2010 and in 2011 SolarBuyer started independently auditing solar factories and doing pre-shipment inspections of large-quantities of new modules. Their results showed that out of more than 40 mainstream module manufacturers only 6 (15%) manufacturers delivered consistently good quality product.

Another speaker on the panel discussed the importance of solar energy modeling for Independent System Operators (ISOs). Marie Schnitzer of AWS Truepower explained that as larger PV farms come online, short-term ramp events will have a bigger impact. A ramp event occurs when a solar array suddenly stops producing power due to cloud cover or shading.  It could also occur when that cloud cover lifts and the array ramps back up again.

According to Schnitzer, it will become increasingly important for ISOs to be able to determine exactly how much power an array will be providing the next hour.  The solution to this challenge again, highlights the difficulties that emerging industries face because Schnitzer said it might take five more years of data collection in order to have good reliable modeling.  She said that now energy modeling relies on black and white satellite imagery, which means that sometimes it is challenging to determine if, for example, a darker area in a desert region is a dry lake bed or a cloud.

What’s clear is that solar power is growing at incredible rates.  All four of the keynote speakers at Power-Gen International mentioned solar power as one of the mega-trends they were watching.

The Successful Solar Development session was part of the Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo, North America, taking place now in Orlando, Florida. The show is co-located with Power-Gen International, the largest show for the power generation industry in the world. This year, the combined shows have welcomed a record number of registered attendees at 21,000 plus visitors.

Lead image: Solar Array in New Mexico via Shuttersock

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