Innovations employed in the power plant can range from design improvisations to component and technology selection of the power plants. You might want to compare the existing power plant with others in order to understand whether the innovations employed have proven beneficial. As long as the performance in terms of generation from the power plant is in alignment with the expected numbers, you should be relatively safe with the innovations already in place. However, as applicable to innovations in any sector, only time can tell you whether they have worked favourably.

Let’s discuss a few innovations employed in solar power plants along with the expected benefits and challenges associated with it.

  • Usage of coloured panels to improve the aesthetic appeal of the installation

Like any other innovation, this also has not found mass acceptance in the industry because of the associated increase in costs. These have been limited to installations in the U.S, and are mainly limited to rooftop installations. The major deterrent for this  kind of panels is that the efficiency ranges expected for these are significantly low when compared to conventional panels. So, unless you are particular about the physical appearance of the power plant, you can give this innovation a miss.

Bifacial solar panels can absorb solar radiation from both the sides. The construction is such that the conventional backsheet and glass structure is replaced by a frameless panel with tempered glass on both sides. This means that the electricity generation is significantly increased in comparison to conventional solar panels when the same number of panels are used.Recently, big players like Yingli Solar and Canadian Solar have launched their bifacial module series that guarantees about 30% more output. Well, of course, the upfront costs are higher but they can produce better returns over the long term especially in regions with a high albedo effect.

  • Usage of micro-inverters for the solar power plant

Nowadays, whether it be a commercial installation or a residential rooftop solar system, string inverters have become the standard solar inverter type used. But there are cases where micro-inverters, which can be attached to individual panels, have also been opted for. Micro inverters eliminate the problem of low generation due to shading because every solar panel is independent and if the there is any defect or problem with one of them, the rest of the panels still pump out power normally. With micro inverters, there is no single point of failure. Moreover, there is the added advantage of monitoring the output from each solar panel.

Despite the benefits, cost has been a big bottleneck for widespread adoption of micro-inverters. They can cost 50% more than of a typical string inverter. Additionally, the O&M costs for these are also higher. In the recent past, owing to reducing prices and upcoming innovative products, the market for micro-inverters is growing, especially in the US.

  • Usage of module-level or string level monitoring over conventional inverter based monitoring system

PV monitoring systems are software-driven devices that track the performance of a solar energy installation. They vary in terms of what they track and how it’s displayed, but most provide real-time and historical data, performance-based alerts, web-based (or cellular) monitoring and some give details on weather and some let you customize the presentation.

String-level monitoring, which comes with advanced monitoring capabilities through its’ extensive data acquisition can make a big difference to plant performance in the long-term.

A solar plant deployed with a string-level monitoring system gathers inputs from inverters, string combiner boxes, weather station (which comprises pyranometer as well as instruments for measuring cell and ambient temperatures) and the net meter. All these add a high degree of reliability and ensures that under-performance of the plant is mitigated. The additional expenses associated with it are insignificant when compared to the expected generation increase it guarantees, and Solar Mango would recommend favouring this option.

  • Usage of non-penetrating mounting structures

The typical solar installation on a concrete roof requires mounting structures that penetrate the roof, raising concerns with waterproofing and other structural issues in some buildings. The use of non-penetrating mountings has allowed solar plants to be mounted on such buildings. The only issue associated with them is that they cannot be employed in regions prone to storms and heavy winds. 

  • Usage of elevated mounting structures

Mounting structures that elevate the solar panels above the roof allow the roof to be also used for other purposes, may create a slightly cooler top floor, and increase panel cooling due to greater exposure to the wind. This allows for utilizing the otherwise occupied space for other purposes like gardening. Although the system cost can increase, many customers do like such customizations.

  • Employment of automatic cleaning for solar panels

Some plants may practice automatic cleaning for panels. This makes use of a self-cleaning system that works by using a low volume nozzle to spray water and soap onto the solar panels and wipes them clean like a windshield wiper. This idea could be favoured in the case of utility-scale projects in remote locations and also sometimes in the case of rooftop power plants which pose a danger to seasoned rooftop professionals.

You might want to check these questions on Solar Power Plant Evaluation- Plant Performance

  • What is the average CUF (Capacity Utilisation Factor) of the power plant?-Here
  • What are the performance guarantees provided by the installer?-Here
  • What is the generation data from the power plant? Is it according to the industry standards?-Here
  • What have been the cleaning practices for the panels over the years?-Here
  • What are the O&M practices followed?-Here
  • How do you check the quality of the  O&M company and personnel? – Here
  • Is there scope for expansion of the power plant, in terms of scale?-Here
  • What were the key problems the power plant had faced and what were the causes for these?-Here