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Grid Emulation for Utility Scale Solar Commissioning

Engineer lays solar panel in place for utility scale solar commissioning project

At the beginning of 2020, the U.S. solar industry saw a record-breaking number of installations that accounted for nearly 40% of all new electricity generating capacity added. Experts predict that utility scale solar is still set to meet projections despite the effects of COVID-19. As more solar projects are connected to the grid, however, facility owners will need a streamlined and cost-effective method for commissioning their projects.

Commissioning not only ensures a facility meets regulations, but gives solar farm operators the opportunity to test every component to confirm equipment performance and functionality. When done correctly, solar commissioning helps improve the overall safety of the facility, ensures operational efficiency, and can provide confidence in the facility’s ability to generate revenue.

The only way to commission a utility scale solar farm so that it can begin operating and generating revenue is through load testing. Accurate load testing must fully energize the entire solar system to understand how each component and the facility as a whole will operate during normal operations.

Relying on a grid connection to commission a solar farm can cause delays resulting in missed deadlines and increased construction costs. Load banks offer an affordable and reliable solution. Through a combination of load banks and generators, you can emulate the grid, offering a fully controllable alternative to solar commissioning. Load bank testing is more effective than testing with a grid connection due to its faster, cheaper and more predictable process.

Below we highlight the differences between grid testing and load bank testing:

Testing Through the Grid
When testing through the grid, you’ll first need to get approval from the electric utility provider you plan to distribute power through. Working with electric utility providers means you must plan to set up a connection according to the grid’s availability. When you leverage the utility grid to test, you are also subject to potential power surges that can cause safety hazards through the entire system. Power fluctuations and surges also make it difficult to obtain accurate and replicable testing parameters. Without consistent testing measures during the commissioning process, you have an inaccurate baseline for future maintenance testing, raising your risk for error and costly downtime in the future.

Load Bank Testing
With load banks, you can quickly and accurately load test your facility without worrying about scheduling around grid availability. Using a combination of load banks and generators to replicate the operational load of the grid, you’ll have a sustainable and predictable power current with fully controllable parameters. Enlisting a full-service load bank solutions partner makes load testing much simpler and quicker, as a load bank technician will be responsible for set up and tear down, running the relevant tests and providing accurate and actionable results. Full system commissioning using load bank testing offers the most accurate understanding of your facility’s operations, helping you monitor your system components and ensuring efficiency and operability in the long run.

Solar-Specific Tests
The two primary performance test types that solar facility owners will run are Inverter DC and Inverter AC tests. Inverter DC tests allow technicians to test the performance of panels in generating DC electricity while handling fluctuations, while AC tests provide an assessment of how well the inverter converts that power and manages changes in voltage and frequency. Load banks can provide quick and accurate tests for ensuring that your inverter panels are functioning correctly and properly connected with the rest of your facility.

As a leader in the solar industry, ComRent offers solar-specific services that can be used to create a customized testing plan for your facility. If you are ready to ensure your solar project is commissioned on time and on budget, contact ComRent today for a complimentary consultation.

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