Solar Farm Failures – Who’s to Blame?

When it comes to industry life cycles, the Australian Solar Farm industry is far from mature.

The first commercial-scale Solar Farm in Australia opened only 7 years ago in 2011, featuring a capacity of 1 MW. This was followed by the 10 MW Greenough River Solar Farm in 2012. Now with planned Solar Farms boasting hundreds or even thousands of MW capacity, the industry has reached a clear point of intensive growth.

While this new and booming industry is exciting and motivating to industry stakeholders, it’s immaturity can represent a general lack of experience when accounting for long-term impacts of severe weather and soil behavior.

Further, the lack of proper consideration for weather and soil behavior has the potential to cause significant variations to both cost and time during construction.

Tracker array systems and PV technology are the lifeblood of any Solar Farm and must be supported appropriately. Tracker system tolerances are critical and therefore highly dependent upon the integrity and serviceability of its underlying foundations.

If the supporting piles are not correctly determined, designed, manufactured and installed, the tracker array system could suffer catastrophic failure during a severe weather event.

High wind forces generate a range of combined lateral, vertical and torsional loads through a tracker system. These forces are then transmitted through to the underlying piles and into the ground. The combination of these loads and their effects must be considered when determining an appropriate pile design.

Insufficient determination and design can result in geotechnical, structural elastic and plastic failure. This can lead to piles being released from the soil and irrecoverable bending and shearing to the pile and tracker system connection interface.

The early stages of these failure modes can grossly compromise tracker system stow angles, allowing high winds to capture and oscillate the structure. This can then lead to a constant accelerated frequency load that has the potential to structurally compromise the tracker system over a period of time.

In the event that Solar Farm foundations are inadequately designed or installed, it is unlikely that any type or form of tracker system can survive the long-term effects imposed by severe weather events.

Solar Farm failure is not a time to place blame on a specific party, but is instead a time to learn from experience and mature our industry as a whole.

If you would like to learn more about the critical importance of ‘Geodynamic Pile Design’ and how we can help support Developers, EPC’s, and array suppliers with geotechnical determinations and pile designs, visit our ‘Work With Us’ page or contact us today.

Written by Solar Pile International.

Published 26/11/2018

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