Practice makes perfect – Grid Emulation for utility-scale PV plants

This post was originally published in 2014. The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.

It’s been said a thousand times before: practice makes perfect—and it can make for a perfect utility-scale plant commissioning. In the incredibly complex world of designing, constructing and commissioning multi-hundred megawatt utility-scale PV plants, using SMA’s Grid Emulation™ service to simulate grid interconnection before project commissioning is a valuable way to proactively identify issues and make sure these incredible systems get the all-important green light to produce power.

Utility-scale PV plants are multi-million dollar investments in energy production. Like all investments, great steps are taken to mitigate risk. PV plants of this scale can produce energy for 25 years, yet the majority of potential risk comes to a front during initial commissioning. Even small oversights in system design and installation can result in extended delays and ruined equipment, resulting in lost production, revenue and potential safety incidents for site personnel.

Getting utility-scale systems ready for commissioning is a crucial step for all systems.

Get it right the first time

SMA’s proprietary technology can simulate grid connectivity for a full pre-commission test involving the entire power path, all the way from the PV modules to the inverter and the medium-voltage transformer. Pre-testing before grid interconnection is a crucial way for EPCs to prevent unnecessary project delays, which can help limit and, in some cases, eliminate liquidated damages accrued from problems that would have delayed system commissioning.

Time on your side

In utility-scale PV, time is money. Each day a system sits without making power is another day’s lost profits. However, each day a system is producing power before its contracted commission date could result in bonus pay for EPCs and their teams, a motivator to ensure commissioning without delay.

Since its launch, Grid Emulation has been a valued asset for EPCs and installation teams around the country. In many situations, PV systems would have needed additional work before interconnection was possible, taking up valuable time and resources instead of producing clean, renewable energy.

All systems go

Utility-scale systems and their central inverters are put through rigorous inspections throughout commissioning. SMA performs one of the industry’s toughest and most thorough inspections when hired for system commissioning to ensure the entire system is sound. EPCs partnering with SMA for Grid Emulation’s pre-commission services can be the difference between only performing the commission inspection once and having to re-inspect, saving valuable time and resources for all involved.

As utility-scale systems grow in popularity with investors and overall system size, pre-commissioning services like Grid Emulation will likely play a larger role in the PV inverter system solution. When it’s time to turn the system on, it’s good to know there won’t be any surprises waiting to ruin the big day. Feel free to celebrate.

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