Most utility-grade solar plants with hundreds of arrays and thousands of panels are designed in east/west rows to easily follow the path of the sun. From high above, everything appears neat and square. But there’s more to cabling a solar plant than managing the north/south “home run” pathways that carry DC power from the ends of each row to the interconnection point for conversion to AC power.
Our insatiable demand for electricity is forcing utilities and energy providers to build new sources of power. Advances in solar technology combined with falling costs and a push by the federal government for renewable energy has made solar power more popular than ever. Unfortunately, many of the prime locations for high mega-watt solar farms are either gone, too expensive, or not in proximity to growing population centers.
Data centers, especially hyperscale data centers, are power-hungry monsters with an insatiable appetite for electricity. In fact, after buying the land, constructing the building, installing all the racks and servers, and staffing it, the number one operating expense for any data center is utility power. Their carbon footprint is as big, if not bigger, than many manufacturing operations.
Dig a trench end-to-end to bury cables, or dig holes to plant above ground pilings?
Guess where a buried cable failure point may be, or easily access cables for repair and replacement?
Use thicker conductors to compensate for underground de-rate, or carry all the PV energy the array can produce on 50% less cable size?
The National Electric Code (NEC) section 690.110.12 for the mechanical execution of work states, “Electrical equipment shall be installed in a neat and workmanlike manner.” Believe it or not, this is the only current cable management standard for the solar industry in 2019. This is a very subjective definition that is open to liberal interpretation from job to job.
Traditionally, solar plants sell 100% of the energy they produce to utilities as it is generated. There is no storage; every watt sent to the grid is for immediate consumption. When the sun goes down, utilities fire up additional fossil fuel turbines to meet demand.
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.