First Solar unveils new power plant operations center

A photo of Agua Caliente under construction earlier in 2012Photovoltaic manufacturer and project developer First Solar unveiled last week its new global command center in Mesa, Ariz. The center allows First Solar to monitor its systems around the world from Arizona and California to its recently completed array in Australia.

The new control center allows First Solar to monitor power plants under its operations and maintenance contracts. At the center it can manage the connections to utility and customer networks and operate the systems as needed. According to the company it can also use its power prediction tools and analytical capabilities to maximize power output at each installation. The center can also help minimize maintenance costs. "Predictability and reliability have become increasingly critical to utilities and grid operators as large-scale renewable power plants are connected to the grid," said Mahesh Morjaria, First Solar’s vice president of global grid integration.

It’s a centralized approach for the developer of some of the world’s largest photovoltaic projects, including the Agua Caliente, which, with 200 megawatts of AC photovoltaics, is the largest operational PV plant in the world, and others, like the 80 megawatt Sarnia farm in Ontario, Canada. By controlling plants’ output to the grid, it allows the grid more stability as weather events impact power plant production. Already the company will manage operations 14 solar farms with a total of 460 megawatts of generating capacity. That’s set to expand to 23 PV plants with 850 megawatts of generating capacity by the end of 2012 and more than doubling to 27 PV plants with 2,200 megawatts of generating capacity in 2013.

The command center also will allow the company to gather advanced data on the farms. "The vast quantity of data we gather also gives us invaluable insight into the real-word performance of our products and supports the continuous improvement of our power plants," said Bob Callery, First Solar’s vice president of operations and maintenance. The data collected will include electrical performance, equipment status and weather data. Together the data collected will also help First Solar better understand how systems will be impacted by weather, aging and other factors.

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