Reducing Solar PV Costs Through Quality Assurance

by Kyra Holt, Director of Engineering

Developers in the solar PV industry face tough challenges as costs fluctuate in their capital expenditure column. In contrast, the most controllable item in their estimates can be the design and installation process itself, and specifically quality. Through a targeted quality campaign, costs can be controlled by implementing relatively small but important steps throughout the development process.

Developing solar power plants does not have to be overly complicated. The majority of the technical challenges are in the details, beginning with the solar engineering and design process, meeting contract obligations, and then carrying through to inspections during construction, and follow-up testing. How many times have you as a project developer had to watch in pain as people scrambled at the end of a project to replace equipment, haggle with the utility over a previously unidentified interconnection issue, or lost confidence the system performance test will meet expectations? How many of you have a line item in your estimates for contingencies or unforeseen issues at the end of the project that is much higher than it should be? Those extra costs can be largely mitigated with the right approach to quality.

Let’s begin with the design process. Do your designers and engineers really have that long history in the industry required to understand the subtle differences among the wide array of equipment choices and design decisions? Do they and your Director of Operations understand constructability issues because they’ve worked on sites and inspected work on hundreds of different types of PV installations? Most importantly, what kind of internal quality control processes are in-place to ensure that those in the field will have what they need to do it right the first time? This can’t be stressed more in an industry where corners can be cut at almost every turn. Without a top-notch design, it’s time to pump up that contingency number because there will likely be unforeseen issues coming your way.

Before the design is finalized, it is best for developers to identify and coordinate with the installation contractor. If you choose to hire a contractor who will also provide the design, you’ll want to have an independent review of the plans to ensure quality. It’s critical to identify as many issues up-front and make sure any changes you want to see are reflected in a final construction drawings. Include contract language that follows your preferred best practices when it comes to things like wire-management, fencing, access roads, implementation of the Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), etc. You can remove many of the unknowns by getting them in writing. It may increase the bid price a little bit, but if you are a wise developer you know it is better to spend the money on quality up-front than having to fork out many times that amount at the end of the project in contingencies or cost overruns. Of course, not all unforeseen issues can be predicted, but minimizing them is the goal.

During construction you’ll want to have experienced technicians on-site who truly understand codes and compliance to create punch-lists for the contractor. These inspections can take place once in the middle of construction or multiple times throughout. A follow-up program is also necessary, whether that is implemented by your staff or the by those who performed the original inspections. Most importantly, don’t let issues slide until the end, they are typically more costly to fix when everything is in-place than closer to when those mistakes were made.

Finally, commissioning and testing your system using third-party experienced technicians is vitally important as you bring your investment online. Knowing that the system meets contractual agreements is the final step in assuring you have completed the most arduous step of the development process and your system will begin producing power, and money for you, for years to come.

Contact SEI Professional Services (SEIPS) Today!
SEI Professional Services (SEIPS) leverages decades of experience in the solar industry to take your solar project from concept to reality. No matter what stage you are currently at in your solar project planning or construction – we are here to serve you. SEIPS can assist you as an industry leading solar energy consulting company to ensure your project gets completed on time and within budget for years of reliable clean energy production.

SEIPS provides expert services during every stage of the project development cycle from concept to commissioning and beyond through operations and maintenance (O&M) services. Contact us today and one of our technical specialists will work with you to maximize your solar project.  Contact Jeff Ruppert PE, Business Manager / Civil Engineer for SEI Professional Services / SEI Engineering @ (970) 948-5744 or