The Bigger Picture: Commissioning a 200 MW Solar Site

Programming meters and developing SCADA systems are certainly rewarding processes, but there’s something about being out in the field that makes you think about the scale – moreover, the importance – of our work.

Such was Donald Weingartner’s experience this past Halloween. Donald, a meter technician and CAISO inspector at Trimark, was on site in Los Banos, California on October 31st to commission Peninsula Clean Energy’s Wright Solar facility. Weighing in at over 200 MW, Wright Solar is clearly a massive site—the largest solar installation built exclusively for a Community Choice Aggregation agency, according to Peninsula. For Donald, this dwarfed the sites he and other Trimark metering techs routinely visit, most of which are in the 20 MW range.

CAISO Inspector Gadget

As a certified CAISO inspector, Donald initiated a number of tests to measure for accuracy, including verifying transformer and transmission losses.  Donald also ran point-to-point tests alongside CAISO and the client, holding a phone conference with CAISO afterwards to analyze the results and determine the overall integrity of the site’s systems. One of the final requirements involved checking the phasor, a diagram that shows the voltage and current of a three-phase system.

All of these checks are necessary in order to receive CAISO’s go-ahead, and even now the commissioning process is ongoing. In fact, Donald worked on-site at Wright Solar over a month-and-a-half before his Halloween visit to handle the initial metering with another party (as, to avoid conflicts of interest, you can’t be both the inspector and the installer). Much of Donald’s September 9th visit laid the groundwork for the commissioning at the end of October: communications were confirmed, IP addresses were assigned to individual devices, and CAISO was informed that the site was prepared to generate.

Making a Difference

Installing and inspecting the technology that drives a massive solar site such as Wright Solar is incredibly interesting, but perhaps even more profound are the real-world benefits derived from its existence. Wright Solar, as previously stated, has an operating capacity of 200 MW. If the site were to run at max output for an average of 8 hours a day, that’s approximately 580 million KWhrs of electricity a year.

According to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, that’s the equivalent of 410,148 metric tons of CO2, or:

  • 46,151,410 gallons of gasoline consumed
  • 448,383,972 pounds of coal burned
  • 52,298,868,773 smartphones charged

In terms of environmental preservation efforts, the site’s yearly generation is equivalent to:

  • 87 wind turbines running for a year
  • 143,058 tons of waste recycled, rather than landfilled
  • 15,578,971 incandescent lamps switched to LEDs

To Donald, that his work contributes to these quantifiable benefits is a major point of pride. It’s often hard to recognize – especially from the office – but if you look past the diagrams, proposals, phone calls, and wiring, you’ll find a world that is truly better because of the work we do.

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