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How to Effectively Manage Solar Panel Cables

Building a solar plant is about efficiencies. We’ve come a long way in terms of solar panel technology, evolving from an expensive government-subsidized industry into a self-sustainable energy market sector. However, power generation is a thin margin game, so squeezing the most wattage out of every dollar spent on materials, labor and ongoing repairs is critical to driving profitability.

Advances in solar technology have increased ROI. Today’s solar plants are capable of achieving energy production levels many times that of arrays using early solar panel technology. But more power generation typically requires thicker cables to handle bigger loads, significantly increasing expenses. Further, the manner of cable installation has a major impact on derate, factors that reduce cable wattage capacity or require the use of larger cables to offset heat buildup. Derate can also negate any advantages of using higher capacity cables depending upon the number of current carrying conductors. Why jump from a 500 Kcmil to a 750 Kcmil cable if the derate can be as high as 50% when running 10 or more buried cables in parallel? Engineers need to rethink processes for solar plant construction to speed installation, maximize revenue and reduce costs.

Let’s start with cabling. There are several choices for laying solar cable, and the best way to do it may not be what you think or the way you’ve always done it.

  • Bury cable. Simple and effective yet labor intensive, sloppy and expensive. The traditional method of laying cable directly in the ground involves trenching and possibly overcoming delays caused by weather, mud, rocks and other unforeseen terrain issues. Derate is considerable as earth traps heat, and cable repair is expensive and hindered by lack of visibility to a failure point.
  • Run cable inside a pipe. The cable is still trenched and buried, but protected from moisture and the weight of earth. Derate is actually worse due to heat entrapment by the pipes, but repairs are easier as cables can be pulled and replaced without digging.
  • Bundle cables on messenger wire above ground. Now we’re getting somewhere. Running cables above ground is faster, less expensive to install, avoids trenching/terrain issues and provides a high level of accessibility for repairs. Above ground cabling will experience some derate due to the cables touching, but less than when inside a pipe.
  • Free air installation. The nirvana of power transmission physics. There is no bundling; cables are run above ground with separators to allow heat to dissipate into the air. The derate factor is greatly reduced, minimized, or in some cases eliminated, allowing for a tremendous reduction in conductor volume. That, plus its relatively low material costs and minimal labor requirements compared to trenching make it a very economical solution. The free air method speeds cable installation, reduces labor costs, and is easily serviceable. Most importantly, free air installation allows solar plants to utilize smaller cables to their maximum capacity for a better ROI.

For solar plants seeking to reduce costs while increasing capacity, Snake Tray Solar Snake Max is the answer. This patented free air system offers rapid snap-together installation with no field fabrication required. It provides maximum accessibility to individual cables for repairs while meeting NEC requirements for code compliant cable separationfor the length of the run. The result is minimal derate which can reduce cable convergence by 25% to 40% over an entire project. Imagine the savings your solar plant could achieve using 350 Kcmil cables in free air space to convey the equivalent amount of power required by a 600 Kcmil buried cable!

This is how solar plants can squeeze more profit out of every watt generated. This is the power of Snake Tray Solar Snake Max. Let us show you how to save time and money on your next solar installation to make your plant as profitable as it can be.

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