On the surface, selecting the ideal spot for a solar project is simple: Find a sunny area near existing transmission lines that are carrying extra capacity. But those ideal conditions are somewhat of a unicorn, and the reality of the process is much more complex.
Finding an optimum location for any given interconnected solar project requires a balance of the existing constraints on a grid with the availability of the fuel source — or sun — required to power the project.
Interconnection issues can be overcome by doing advance legwork and upfront modeling to evaluate the interconnection impacts. This work, when done in the early stages of selecting a site, will help in selecting a cost-effective long-term option.
To gain a full picture of the transmission viability, however, it is important to consider more than just a line’s available capacity. For example, the attractiveness of one potential site over another can change significantly based on whether load peaks happen in a certain area or the location of other proposed projects in a specific location.
If multiple projects are being proposed in one area, the timing of project development can significantly impact the existing line’s capacity. For example, if a line has a limited amount of available transmission capacity and the first project utilizes most of it, a second project could tip that capacity over the edge. Line capacity is limited. Too much of a good thing can present issues when it comes to energy projects.
These interconnection factors — and many others — should be considered as part of the evaluation process so that utilities and developers can make informed decisions on where a project could be most successful once constructed.
In any solar project, the sun is a critical element to the project’s success and will always be a key element in a successful siting strategy, but the availability of the fuel source isn’t always the overriding factor to a successful project. Site location needs to be a balance of available fuel generation and an optimal location on a transmission line.
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