Optimizing Solar Sites for LCOE through Terrain Analysis
Our objective is to bring solar installation issues to the forefront of solar site selection, rather than wait until the sites are designed for construction. Using geospatial analysis, various terrain-based costs/benefits can be predicted before sites are created, such as terrain losses, grading, mechanical installation tolerances, and more. KiloNewton LLC, a solar and renewables services company, is developing an extremely efficient, unique solution using geographic information system (GIS) software to originate and build sites more accurately, predicting and optimizing site soft costs, output, profitability, and levelized cost of energy (LCOE). Our site optimization methods advance the prediction of solar LCOE, while lowering soft costs. The software operates through analyzing site variables, combined with technology constraints that interact with variables. It predicts production losses caused by self-shading due to terrain, an issue today, currently without solutions. This quickly identifies buildable areas and trade-offs between production variations, costs of components, and soft costs. This process uses physics and engineering to analyze geographic areas for their potential solar LCOE. Variables that affect initial costs include terrain, grading, foundation, power transmission, land costs, and others. Yield is influenced by weather, location, irradiance, temperature, terrain, and more. This can be further expanded to include financial/feasibility variables like line load costs, local RECs, tax benefits, proximity to substations/transmission, demand, zoning, floodplains, endangered species, and more. We improve site generation on complex sites by up to 5%, and tailor layouts to reduce costs by up to 5%. The software improves the cost of electricity by 10%+ enabling less-skilled originators and designers to use the processes. Solar costs vary from $0.60/W to $1.20/W installed. Our software enables developers to efficiently identify lowest cost sites, by searching within a large area, or selecting smaller parcels to compare, bringing average site costs down by up to 20%. Engineering, procurement and construction companies (EPC’s), operations and maintenance providers can use the tool to optimize sites during construction and after by up to 8%. Solar sites have late-term problems via geographic variables ignored in the development phase. Eliminating these problems at the start means costly redesigns are avoided. Developers choose many sites and down-select through a process of individual analysis. Enabling the site down-select process to happen simultaneously with speculation saves valuable time and hours of analysis. Planning to choose technology wisely and avoid costly areas will allow developers and EPC’s to assume the lowest range of these costs, and lower overall margins required to operate.