A Developer's Guide to Solar

Optimization is a concept that has gained acceptance as a useful tool for getting the most out of a solar development. What does it really mean? What exactly should be optimized – and why?

As a baseline definition, optimization means defining the precise data set needed and applying the appropriate analysis and modeling to determine the project characteristics that will yield the right level of energy production for the cost of the investment.

Note, however, that optimization is not the same as maximization. As in modeling for the economics of any commodity, the goal in solar optimization is predictable production. It should neither over- nor underachieve the desired quantity of available energy – a tricky task given the multiple, variable factors at play.

OBSTACLES AND PAIN POINTS FOR DEVELOPERS

As a young industry – most utility scale solar plants in North America have been operating less than a decade – solar developers have less historic detail to draw on than other industries, yet face the same (if not greater) risks in calculating return on investment.

Independent engineers are a critical arm of a financier, yet typically their energy estimation analysis is minimal. Today, many of the most commonly used tools for solar project development still rely on generalized approaches and statistics and a bare minimum approach to estimation. A developer that knows where and how to push to gain true optimization can ensure more predictable outcomes and greatly improve project value.