Solar power generation is growing rapidly in the U.S. According to a report from GTM Research, the U.S. solar market will reach an impressive 13.2 gigawatts of solar energy in 2017.  The utility sector is expected to account for 66 percent of installations this year.

The proven success of utility-scale solar in states including California, Arizona and Nevada, has led more private investors to back large-scale solar projects or start their own solar farm. As Bloomberg reported, notable investors including Google Inc. and Warren Buffett have backed large solar projects, and more conventional utility companies are purchasing solar energy to diversify their offerings.

However, in order for utility-scale solar to continue to grow in the U.S., companies must see a strong return on investment. Like home and business owners, investors in large solar projects must consider ROI before deciding to implement a solar installation. However, for utility-scale projects, ROI is especially important because of financing.

Cost control important for lenders

As Solar Industry magazine reported, the U.S. Department of Energy provided much of the early loans or loan guarantees for solar utility in the U.S. However, in recent years, private lenders have become increasingly active in the field, leading the Energy Department to scale back its lending efforts.

As more utility-scale financing depends on the private sector, solar developers are under more pressure to prove the economic feasibility of their projects, as private lenders often have less altruistic interest in solar than the DOE did. When securing private capital, ROI becomes a critical factor. Solar developers must prove their projects make economic sense by pairing strong energy yields with low operating and maintenance costs.

"Developers prove their projects make economic sense by demonstrating strong energy yields and low costs."

Developers will often aim to prove a low levelized cost of energy, which is determined by dividing the project's total cost of operation by the energy generated.

Reducing balance of system costs

Weather conditions, site topography and the durability of the panels are all factors that can influence LCOE and the ROI of a utility-scale project. Utilizing equipment that allows for flexible configurations to adapt to the specific site, as well as panels with user interfaces that transmit real-time performance data, can maximize the energy being collected at the site and minimize the risk of failure. This allows for greater revenue to be generated through consistent performance.

The 1500V TALLMAX modules are the perfect solution for utility providers, requiring fewer components and less wiring for large-scale systems. This means reduced installation costs, less ongoing maintenance, and lower system losses. Enabling up to 33% lower Balance of System cost savings from longer strings and larger array blocks, the 1500V usage increases the customer PV system power density and performance.

Reducing risk through module-level monitoring

Of course, any large scale project carries with it the potential for things to go wrong. In order to maintain strong ROI through consistent performance, utility-scale project operators need rigorous and insightful performance monitoring systems that allow any problems to be corrected in a timely manner.

Module-level monitoring facilitates allow for advanced preventative and condition-based maintenance capabilities. The module-level monitoring provided by TrinaSmart modules allow operators to conduct remote, real-time diagnostics and pinpoint any problems down to the specific panel in the system. Operators can even use TrinaSmart capabilities to disconnect underperforming panels remotely in instance of shading or other temporary external factors affecting performance.

With module-level monitoring, developers have an increased assurance that their system will deliver the expected power production and can utilize real-time alerts and analytics to optimize that performance at any given moment.

"Strong ROI is further promoted by partnering with a bankable PV manufacturer."

Increasing investor confidence with bankability

Utility-scale developers can further prove promote a strong ROI by partnering with a bankable PV manufacturer. As Renewable Energy World reported, developers need to prove to lenders that they are able to reduce the risks associated with design, engineering, construction and performance for their projects. The bankability of a PV manufacturer speaks to their proven track record in overcoming these challenges in existing projects.

BNEF found worldwide developers have secured funding for more than 1.2GW of energy on 15 different projects using Trina Solar modules. As the largest manufacturer of PV modules in the world, Trina Solar is able to leverage its market-leading position to provide flexible and continuous service to utility-scale projects.

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