WFES: First Solar launches free online power plant assessment tool

First Solar is trying to encourage people interested in utility scale solar to sketch out a power plant using its new online assessment tool. The tool will be provided free of charge and will presumably function as a customer acquisition tool for First Solar. Potential PV power plant investors can plot the boundaries on a particular piece of land and receive a simple report to the proposed PV power plant’s feasibility.

First Solar launched the Energy Capacity Assessment Tool on the eve of the 2015 World Future Energy Summit, which kicks off on Monday in Abu Dhabi.

The U.S. company developed the program in house over nine months. It leverages First Solar’s existing sales and design software. The online tool rather ingeniously adjusts the power plant’s capacity, energy production density, kWh production and revenue intelligently – as the boundaries and parameters of the park are adjusted. The user enters information such as row spacing, whether trackers will be used, the year of construction and local feed in rates.

“We’re targeting developers particularly in emerging markets,” explained David Spieldenner First Solar’s Global Manager of Power Plant Systems, during a series of press demonstrations of the online tool the company held last week. “There are a lot of developers out there with land, money and dreams of building solar power plants, but don’t know where to go to get started.”

Potential developers enter a number of pieces of information, such as a genuine email address, and whether the potential site has the required permitting, which First Solar will presumably use to follow up on leads. Crucially for potential developers to receive a quotation or costing, they must follow up with First Solar directly.

“We drew on First Solar’s history doing [energy yield] reports, and then could create linear equation using a hand full of parameters and use that as the underpinning of the energy calculation.” said Spieldenner.

End users

During the demonstration Spieldenner cited as an example target user the son of a wealthy family in an emerging solar market. The family owned vast tracks of land, some of which may have been suitable for utility scale solar. The son used the tool to plot out his own solar maps at various locations to assess the feasibility of projects, using First Solar technology.

First Solar believes that municipalities or governments could also be potential users of the Energy Capacity Assessment Tool.

“One of the biggest things we have to do within our government relations activities, is to educate them on the potential for solar development on government land,” said Spieldenner. He said the First Solar government relations team was already using the tool.

An extension of the software tool to assess commercial rooftop arrays is a likely next step. Spieldenner said that currently the Energy Capacity Assessment Tool uses assumptions pertaining exclusively to ground mount systems – such as border areas and row spacing, however these could be modified to suit the rooftop space.

“This is one of a suite of tools under development,” said Spieldenner. “A commercial rooftop version is just out there a little bit on our roadmap.” The Energy Capacity Assessment Tool can be accessed here.

First Solar is exhibiting at the World Future Energy Summit this week in Abu Dhabi. It is showing the online tool along with its new Series 4 CdTe modules and AC Power Block PV power plant design concept.

The WFES is a part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2015.

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