PV Talk: First Solar seeks to set new standard in PV power plant performance

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on email
Email

This week, thin-film manufacturer and utility-scale PV plant developer First Solar revealed its 50MW Macho Springs project in New Mexico had become the first of its kind to receive a Quality Tested certification from testing institutes VDE and Fraunhofer ISE.

Quality assurance certifications are commonplace at a module level, but a new development for PV power plants, reflecting the extent to which they have caught the attention of serious investors. At Solar Power International in Las Vegas this week, PV Tech spoke to Azmat Siddiqi, First Solar’s senior vice president of quality and reliability, and John Sedgwick, president of VDE Americas, for some insights into how the certification was achieved and how it will drive up standards in the PV power plant business.

Azmat Siddiqi, First Solar’s senior vice president of quality and reliability (right), and John Sedgwick, president of VDE Americas. Source: Ben Willis.

PV Tech: First Solar is already a respected player in the PV power plant business. Why was this certification step felt to be necessary?

Azmat Siddiqi: As we pursue excellence and quality in all our operations and all our endeavours, it’s very important to raise the bar in the industry. So this was not just for First Solar, but to raise the bar in the industry.

John Sedgwick: We’re clearly seeing the industry trend now towards what are more normalised financing mechanisms, and when that happens you need standardised certifications for plants. And we’re leaning, almost pulling the industry along to something that’s quite standard in other industries. In other industries when you have a US$100 million asset, you have a certification on that asset saying everything’s fine; in the solar industry we’re not children, but we’re maybe young teenagers.

PV Tech: Is this certification a reflection of the changing nature of the investors now being attracted to solar and what they’re demanding?

JS: Absolutely. What we’re seeing is that there’s been a change in the way these assets are financed, where they’re no longer based on tax equity or feed-in tariffs. They’re going to be financial assets with traditional IRRs, and so banks are going to want to see certification to reduce risk; insurance companies will want to see these for reduced risk. It’s just a maturing process in the industry is happening now.

PV Tech: What does the actual certification process look at?

JS: It’s a very comprehensive analysis of the plant. It checks everything, from documentation of the smallest component, all the way up to the high-end system. And so it really certifies that that plant is a world-class, world-standard, highest-quality solar PV financial asset. So it’s a very comprehensive analysis.

AS: There are over 300 different areas of focus, attention and certification in the process; it’s a very comprehensive programme. Throughout our value chain, we try to put these new practices of technology readiness in place, so right up to commission, we’ve got these internal practices; now is the best time to have them certified.

PV Tech: How long does it take to do one of these tests?

JS: It’s usually about three to four months, depending on what stage the plant is at. You can start it as the plant begins construction, or you can do it in the middle, or you when it’s completed.

PV Tech: Do you anticipate that your competitors in the industry will follow your lead?

AS: I would certainly hope so. Raising that bar is where the real win for the industry is; when the industry’s acceptance of this certification becomes the norm, then we can all compete on our individual differentiators.

JS: Anything you do in the solar industry you have to drive costs down. And where we need to focus is on soft costs and financing, and perceived risk that financial lenders and insurance companies assign to solar assets. And when you get just a small movement, a little movement in that reduction, it has a very large impact on reducing the cost of the asset and thereby increasing the market that’s available to it.

PV Tech: Will First Solar’s intention be to do this for all projects in the future now?

AS: The intention will be there. It depends a lot on the individual customer and the intents there, but our intention is to make this a standard practice so we stand technically and financially behind all our projects and ensure we have met all the requirements.

PV Tech: Investors are increasingly driving the quality assurance process on the demand side of the market through third-party QA processes – can you see that happening at a PV system level?

JS: Yes, we are hearing from various financial institutions that at a systems level these kind of certifications more and more will be required as part of a financing package. It’s not there yet, but it’s going to become obvious that you need to have some level of risk reduction assurance that’s more organised.

PV Tech: Is this part of the industry’s growing up process?

AS: Yes, it’s about risk identification, classification and mitigation. Mitigation is the key.

10 November 2021
The solar tracker market continues to mature at breakneck speed, with designs and component selections becoming ever-more complex in the pursuit of better project economics. But a more simplistic design could deliver a triple benefit of lower Capex, EPC and Opex costs. This webinar will set out the ideal single axis tracker design for utility-scale solar farms. The design leapfrogs from decades of experience, with a comprehensive understanding and attention to the three cost structures of Capex, EPC and Opx. Sun and Steel Solar has prototyped a single axis tracker designed to deliver up to US$0.03/W in real savings compared to existing single axis trackers on the market. That’s US$30 million for every gigawatt deployed.
15 November 2021
The 10th edition of the famous Metallization and Interconnection Workshop, MIW2021, will take place in the Thor Central venue in Genk, Belgium, on Monday, November 15, and Tuesday, November 16, 2021 as a face-to-face meeting. We are longing for direct exchange of knowledge and ideas after a long time. Hopefully you can be part of it! But of course, the organizors will keep an eye on the evolution of the Covid pandemic. It will be assess carefully, whether the workshop can be held without major risks or excessive restrictions. We are looking forward to exciting talks, discussions and meetings and to welcoming you in Genk!
23 November 2021
The solar, storage and EV industries in the UK are going from strength to strength. There is no better place for the community to meet, share ideas and do business than Solar & Storage Live from 23-25 November at the NEC.There’s something for everyone; more than 150 exhibitors, a high-level conference, a start up and innovation zone, a poster zone, strategic partners to network with and much more. 
24 November 2021
In this webinar we will assess how these technical parameters and land characteristics can make a difference, in order to correctly make the choice between 1P or 2P trackers. There will be a comparison of the behaviour of Soltec’s 1P tracker, SFOne, and its 2P tracker, the SF7.
1 December 2021
Understand fully the technical and logistical supply chains that determine the production and performance of solar modules, including all related factors impacting quality, reliability & bankability. This event will be run online with streamed content, access to session recordings and chat/messaging tools for delegates to connect.
2 December 2021
Intersolar is the world’s leading exhibition & conference series for the solar industry. As part of this event series, Intersolar India in Mumbai is India’s most pioneering exhibition and conference for India’s solar industry. It takes place annually and has a focus on the areas of photovoltaics, PV production and solar thermal technologies. Since 2019, Intersolar India is held under the umbrella of The smarter E India – India’s innovation hub for the new energy world.

Read Next

October 28, 2021
A round-up of the latest news from the US solar market, including a new Lightsource bp project in Colorado, CenterPoint’s PV expansion in Indiana and another solar power purchase agreement (PPA) from Facebook.
October 28, 2021
Off-grid, pay-as-you go solar company BBOXX has expanded into Nigeria, the company’s largest market to date, with the aim of providing clean energy access to 20 million people over the next decade
October 28, 2021
US residential solar installer Sunnova is broadening its service offering in areas such as battery storage and electric vehicle charging as it bids to double its customer count over the next two years.
PV Tech Premium
October 28, 2021
With the crucial COP26 summit just days away, PV Tech Premium breaks down the key players and countries for solar to watch at the event
October 27, 2021
More than half of utility-scale solar projects planned for next year could be at risk of delay or cancellation as a result of surging materials and logistics cost, new analysis has claimed.
PV Tech Premium
October 27, 2021
As prices rise and component availability remains tight, both solar’s upstream and downstream are rallying behind the common cause of ensuring which projects can go ahead, do go ahead in a timely fashion. Liam Stoker assesses the industry’s efforts to keep the supply chain moving forward.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Webinars
November 10, 2021
8am (PST) | 5pm (CET)
Solar Media Events
December 1, 2021