Chris Thompson, Solar Business Unit Manager, Eaton
The solar industry in the U.S. and worldwide has had strong growth over the past few years. As the industry has grown, we have seen projects grow in size from commercial projects at a few hundred kilowatts to utility-scale applications that are up to hundreds of megawatts. With project growth, vendor bankability and balance of system solutions (BOS) designed to support larger utility installations are becoming even more important.
Owners and investors of utility-scale projects have millions invested in equipment, so it is imperative that key component suppliers stick around to support the projects. Utility-scale projects are expected to deliver 25 years of energy production — the reliability of vendors to support those projects and the availability of replacement parts is crucial to project success. The best warranty and operating performance does not matter if the manufacturer is not around to back it up.
As vendor bankability improves, financing risk is reduced. This then leads to reduced financing costs and the viability of a greater range of projects.
Additionally, with the proliferation of utility-scale solar projects, BOS should be engineered to support megawatt requirements and operating conditions. Commercial-scale solutions have been shoehorned to fit utility-scale applications, adding installation time and equipment costs. New equipment, like utility-class inverters, high power DC switching devices and DC circuit breakers, are specifically engineered for large-scale installations and help drive efficiencies and build value. Every BOS component plays a critical role in harvesting solar energy.
Single-source suppliers are providing integrated solutions and on-the-ground support to improve controllability, reliability, delivery and safety in solar applications at every level. This approach simplifies engineering and businesses processes and helps foster growth.
Christopher S. Thompson is the solar business unit manager at Eaton, a diversified power management company. Thompson has more than 20 years of experience with power electronics and can be reached at ChristopherSThompson@eaton.com.