Blymyer Engineers, a solar design firm, is finishing the designs on a 1,500 volt PV system across three sites in Florida. When completed the Gulf Coast project will generate wit 123.75MW of AC power.
The project is using 1,497,000 First Solar thin film modules on AET fixed tilt racks, and since the site is adjacent to the Florida shoreline the entire project must be able to withstand massive hurricane winds. Swinerton Builders is the EPC contractor of record on the project developed by Gulf Coast Solar. The project is planned for completion in late 2016.
The Florida 1,500 volt project is a first for Blymyer Engineers. The utility solar market is undergoing a significant transformation as demand grows for solar power.
According to industry sources, 1,500 volt systems are expected to account for 9% of the worldwide utility solar installations this year (GTM Research, Solar Market Analysis, Scott Moskowitz Solar Analyst). GTM also indicates “the average cost for a 20MW fixed tilt utility project in the US in 2015 was just above $1.50 per watt, which could be viewed as relatively inexpensive.” But given the current landscape record-low PPA signings, component costs are more closely watched because they can ultimately make or break a project. GTM research suggests installing 1500 Vdc systems, instead of now standard 1,000 DC, could lower costs by $0.05 per watt.
Prior to 2013 most of the systems in the US were installed at 600 DC, while Europe was already comfortably working in 1000 DC. Testing standards have been a barrier to 1,500 volt projects in the US, and the availability of 1500 volt manufactured components has been limited. Now manufacturers throughout the supply chain are starting to cater to this voltage ramp-up which lowers BOS costs and subsequently LCOE. Blymyer Engineer’s Director of Engineering Greg Mazur notes, “1,500 volt systems allow for a 50% increase in the number of modules on a string, and reduce the quantity of equipment used to aggregate the DC power of the array. The higher the voltage allows more power through equal sized conductors. It results in less voltage drop, and the power electronics uptake much more efficiently. The upshot is we can design higher voltage systems with longer strings, that’s where the cost savings in BOS kick in.” Theoretically, even more modules can be combined into the string and there will be fewer strings for the same array capacity.