Logistic Challenges of Large-scale Solar Projects

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Solar energy has started to replace conventional and traditional energy resources for more than two decades. This trend is not stopping at all; instead, we are witnessing the rise of PV power plants with the capacity of producing hundreds of megawatts.  

Having said that, the solar industry is facing many challenges for big solar projects in different areas. To complete bigger projects, solar companies have to import and export multiple components from different parts of the world with a lot of barriers and difficulties. 

In this write-up, we are going to highlight the major challenges for big solar projects. We will mainly focus on logistic and chain supply challenges. Let’s get started. 

Reliable Suppliers and Products 

For large-scale solar projects, finding reliable suppliers and products tailored to the client’s requirements is a daunting task. All the stakeholders of utility-scale solar projects including project owners, lenders, and investors are part of the process to ensure that they get required equipment according to the given requirements and specifications. 

All the equipment is not only checked for given specifications but it is made sure that it will perform as anticipated. To ensure this, different tests, professional inspections, and evaluations are conducted. 

To conduct the testing and evaluation of equipment, it is mandatory to find a neutral third party company. Finding the third party for evaluation is quite challenging because your major business decisions depend on them now. 

Now, you have to find the right suppliers for certain products. As per the industry standards, it is recommended to do a factory audit in detail. For this audit, you have to take the services of a reliable, independent, and third-party audit company. 

The purpose of this initial audit is to point out the flaws in the production and supply chain and come with mitigation techniques to overcome the threats. You can use the services of an audit company for the audit of local suppliers too. 

Initially, you can also use this inspection as a standard for the audit of other suppliers to find the best supplier for your project. Based on this audit, you can also build a long-term relationship with suppliers for certain products in the coming projects.

Most solar equipment and modules are certified which means that they meet the basic standards of design and safety IEC 61215 and IEC 61730 respectively. But in some cases, it is not enough. For certain projects, you need to test the products beyond safety and design standards like meeting site and climate requirements. 

The qualification process’s scope must be decided based on every client’s requirements. For the qualification of certain products, different tests are conducted such as power determination, climate chamber testing, and electroluminescence inspections as per the timeline and needs of an individual project. 

At this stage, you have to examine the capacity and capability of the manufacturer along with the production line and warehouse. These tests are conducted to make sure that orders can be completed in a given deadline with specified quantity, quality, and standards. 

Pre-shipment and in-line inspections 

To mitigate different risks, inspections are carried out at each phase of the project. For big solar projects, the in-line inspections must be conducted on the spot by the company during the production of PV modules. 

The initial inspections are followed up to resolve the detected problems and further inspections are carried out during the manufacturing of the panels. In these inspections, the quality assurance system of the manufacturer is verified to meet the specified requirements. 

Before shipping the PV, pre-shipment inspections are conducted on the final products. For this, randomly samples from final products are picked and different tests are carried out to make sure that packaging is meeting the required standards. The right amount of products is loaded as per the orders and the container is not loaded beyond its capacity. 

These inspections are helpful to detect any possible issue beforehand and save your project and company from the negative impact. If faulty equipment reaches on the customer site, you have to engage in big discussions with the client. Not only this, but your project may also suffer delays, late payments, and losses in multiple ways. So, pre-shipment testing is challenging but essential to mitigate possible risks for large-scale solar projects.  

All-round risk management throughout the supply chain

Many big solar projects face huge challenges because of the lack of upfront planning. Solar companies must conduct an expert analysis of the project before starting it. All the major stakeholders such as investors, contractors, owners should perform expert analysis to identify possible risks. 

This planning includes selecting the right products and suppliers for the solar project and conducting different pre-shipment and after shipment tests and quality assurance inspection. This risk management throughout the supply chain helps to overcome the unwanted obstacles. 

Building Strong Communication Channel 

As large scale projects involve materials in bulk and a bigger workforce in the form of construction workers. To cut the cost and avoid fines caused due to delays in installation, all the equipment and workforce must be on the site within the specified timeline.

This is only possible when there is a strong communication channel between different stakeholders such as logistic company, suppliers, and purchasing departments. For the smooth delivery of the materials on the site, ensure to make a direct and uninterrupted mode of communication between the logistics company and the company that manages the site. 

Knowing the dynamics of the country

When you are thinking to take your solar company global, logistics is one of the most important challenges. To operate in a certain country or region, you need to know the ins and outs of the country including laws, regulations, economy, religion, geography, prices, demography, and distribution, etc. All of this knowledge helps to make the right business decisions. 

You need to choose the right supply partner with enough regional knowledge and local regulations. This partner will help you to take care of international shipments. Another biggest challenge is changing the trade restrictions of different countries such as rules restricting or redefining the volume of imports or increased custom duties. 

These changes and regulations impact the delivery of a project in terms of timeline and economics. Being a solar manufacturing company, you must have an idea of logistic barriers for different countries in advance with alternate choices on your roadmap.  

Careful Handling of Equipment and Oversized Cargos

In the solar power sector, shipment and transportation of the equipment require careful handling. For transporting the equipment of big solar projects, oversized cargos are used. For example, if you have to establish a large-scale solar power plant, you have to plan each step of the shipment according to your budget and deadlines to ensure that heavy equipment reaches on the site safe and sound.  Logistic companies use different modes of transportation to ship your orders.

To minimize the cost and save your company from penalties, every component and product must arrive as per schedule. To achieve this, you need a lot of coordination and robust communication between different stakeholders. The communication ensures the timely arrival of components and panels without exceeding the budget. 

What is PV logistic and how it works?

The rise in solar power projects means the rise in the competition too. Your solar company can outstand in the solar energy sector by overcoming the issues and filling the gaps in logistics in particular and supply chain management in general. 

Sadly, many solar companies do not understand this or simply fail to resolve logistic issues and end up losing business and credibility. To overcome these challenges, you need to understand how does the PV logistics work. 

PV logistics is all about:

  • Packaging solar panels
  • Transporting solar panels
  • Unloading solar panels

What to Protect?

PV panels are very fragile and even perfectly produced PV panels can get damaged, scratched or non-function due to poor logistic services. Again, you will not only lose money but your company’s credibility and reputation too with additional expenses. 

It is important to remember here that possibly you may miss some fine damages through your naked eyes. For example, microcracks are small material damage but it can severely damage the solar system in the future. 

Solar Panels Packaging:

When it comes to solar panels packaging, companies like PackagingWin, are aware that there are no official standardized manuals as we find in the automobile industry. It does not mean that there are no methods or solutions to save solar panels from damage. We are sharing a few of the ways to reduce the risks of solar panel damage. 

  • It is recommended to pack your panels using clear and transparent packages; this will help the delivery workers to observe that there are panels and needed extra care to handle.
  • Pack your panels vertically. It will reduce the stress to modules and pallets are secured with separators to ensure the safety of panels. 
  • Go for crating them and don’t care about additional costs for crating. 

Ensure the Protection of Solar Panels During Transit

When you are transporting panels, monitoring all the components is crucial and you cannot rely only on the naked eyes for this. Use available controlling setups and gain a warranty to get compensation for the damage during transit. This will ensure that your client receives the panels in perfect condition. 

Make sure that you are using a reliable vehicle for the transit and your driver is licensed professional without any history of over speeding. According to the stats, almost 5% of panel damages occur in the shipping and transportation of PV. 

To make sure that panels delivery is smooth, follow all the professional and standard practices with extra care. Make sure that all deadlines for shipping and transportation are met. If your shipping and transportation services are of poor quality, clients will never trust you for the rest of the services. Make sure to use the services of the companies or personnel who know their job are committed to their work. 

If the equipment and components reach the clients in the damaged state, you don’t have any option except opting for reverse logistics. And reverse logistics also comes with its challenges. In our next section, we are going to cover the challenges of reverse logistics for big solar projects. 

Reverse Logistic Challenges:

Fulfilling high Customer expectations:

With the rise in online shopping, customers’ shipping expectations are also increased and the B2B marketplace is no exception. Customers want free shipping and early shipping. If a customer gets a faulty unit or component, they expect replacements within a few days. 

There is a record growth in solar manufacturing companies but it comes with a cost. Now, your customers have more options than they had ever before. In B2B purchases, word of mouth and referrals majorly influence the solar power industry. So, you need to fulfill their expectations and provide high-quality services, otherwise, you will struggle to retain previous clients and your marketing department has to put more effort into finding new clients and projects. 

Utilizing Big Data to grow bigger

As the solar industry is growing bigger with every passing day, so many solar manufacturing companies want to go global but they are not sure about the required resources and infrastructure. So, what is the right way to figure this out?

Well, you can find this using many planning and risk management tools. One such tool is Geospatial modeling that rocks the solar industry. You can use this tool to design your supply chain and strengthen it by harnessing the power of your data. 

Use your locations data sets for building visual models of the company operations. You can use this data for spotting trends, problematic areas. Analyze the data to make your business decisions and resolve issues before they start damaging your customer base. 

You can use Geospatial modeling to have detailed insights and answer important questions before starting your next mega-project such as:

  • Which weather events such as storms, rains, and famine can affect company operations?
  • What will be the impact of improper transportation infrastructure in some far-flung areas on the supply chain?
  • What is the economic growth potential of particular countries and regions?

You can use this tool for growth and risk management. Going with hard data is always a good approach as such data is free from personal biases and calculations. 

Conclusion:

There are multiple logistic challenges in big solar projects. Many challenges can arise due to unexpected circumstances and situations such as Covid-19. Being a solar manufacturing company, you can analyze many challenges in advance and come up with solutions and alternative plans. If you don’t have enough resources and time, you can always outsource logistics operations to logistic service companies who are providing reliable shipment and procurement services with proper tracking. 

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