Solar power usage has seen explosive growth over the past 20 years. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports a staggering average annual growth rate of 25% over the last decade alone. Solar farms have been a major driver of this growth. Utility-scale solar farms generate and feed significant amounts of electricity directly into the power grid, boosting overall production. Large-scale projects often benefit from economies of scale, bringing down the cost of solar energy production and making solar more competitive with traditional sources. Unfortunately, the construction of large-scale solar farms comes with significant challenges.  

With over 18 years of experience in renewable energy and a proven track record in overcoming complex challenges in solar farm construction, Stronghold Engineering has become a trusted partner for delivering successful solar projects. Let’s explore the nuances of solar farm construction and the keys to success when undertaking this renewable energy project.

Understanding Solar Farm Construction

Solar farms are a powerful tool for achieving renewable energy goals, generating clean electricity without harmful emissions, and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, solar farms diversify the energy mix, lessening dependence on a single source of power and boosting grid resilience, potentially reducing strain during peak electricity demand periods.

Solar farm construction is the process of building a large-scale facility that converts sunlight into electricity. It involves several key stages, requiring collaboration between various parties. Here’s a breakdown of the components involved:

Site Assessment and Collaborative Planning

The solar construction process begins with an evaluation of the site. We look at factors like sunlight exposure, soil composition, and proximity to the power grid. During this stage we might utilize specialized software and consult with engineers and ecologists.  This is when we work with utility companies to identify the most efficient locations to connect the solar farm to the existing electricity grid. 

System Design

During the system design phase, we select the most suitable type of solar panels for the project’s needs considering factors like efficiency, durability, and cost. We will also design the framework that will hold the panels in place at the optimal angle for sun exposure and select the inverters that convert the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the panels into usable alternating current (AC) for the grid. We also spec out other electrical equipment needed including transformers, cables, and other components needed to transmit the generated electricity efficiently. This phase may also include the modification of existing buildings or land and the design of additional structures to house equipment and system components

Permitting and Approvals

We work with local authorities to obtain the necessary permits for construction and ensure the project adheres to all environmental and zoning regulations. We must also secure permission from the utility company to connect the solar farm to the grid.

Construction and Installation

Once the plan is completed and permits are obtained, solar farm construction can begin.  The description below represents a greatly simplified description of the process of building a solar farm.

First the site is prepared, likely means clearing and leveling the land, and may include the demolition of existing structures. Concrete may be poured at this time or new structures built as a base for the solar equipment.  

After the construction phase is complete, the racking system is installed. The racking system supports the solar panels.  Next, the solar panels are mounted, then wiring and electrical work is done. After this, the racking system and necessary substations or control buildings are constructed and the system is interconnected to the local utility power grid.

System Monitoring, Analysis & Maintenance

Once operational, the solar farm requires continuous monitoring to ensure optimal performance. Data analysis helps identify any issues and ensure the system is producing electricity efficiently. After installation, our clients have the option to retain Stronghold for operational optimization and maintenance services. Our team of experts utilizes advanced monitoring systems to identify potential issues early on, preventing downtime and maximizing power generation. 

Regular cleaning and maintenance ensure optimal panel performance, while expert troubleshooting addresses any problems that may arise. Stronghold’s optimization and maintenance service keeps your solar farm running smoothly, guaranteeing long-term performance and a maximized return on your investment.

Our Approach to Overcoming Construction Challenges

Our more than 30 years of industry experience have allowed us to develop project management strategies that ensure timely and cost-effective delivery for our clients solar projects. Each of these strategies is rooted in one or more of our core values: quality, safety, teamwork, integrity, and commitment

Planning, Scheduling & Budgeting

Our meticulous, collaborative team planning process allows us to use all the information available to defray risk, meet deadlines, and stay on budget. We perform detailed site assessments that identify potential challenges like material availability or unexpected ground conditions and use CPM scheduling to identify critical tasks that could derail our schedule. By anticipating issues early, we develop mitigation strategies and avoid costly delays, demonstrating our commitment to project success.

Communication and Collaboration

Open, honest communication often requires integrity, especially when problems arise. Maintaining open communication with all stakeholders, including clients, subcontractors, and engineers. This allows for early identification and resolution of problems that could otherwise derail the project schedule or budget. 

Detailed Processes and Current Technology

We have developed a detailed, meticulous process as part of our pledge to deliver quality projects that exceed our client’s goals, needs, and aspirations. We continuously review our processes and improve them with the latest software and techniques to continue to improve. Many of our processes support the safety of our teams, which is reinforced by our culture and our “no compromises” ethos. 

Innovative Solutions for Custom Design-Builds

Stronghold’s commitment to exceeding customer expectations means we pride ourselves on finding innovative solutions when faced with solar construction challenges.

West Riverside Landfill

Stronghold was selected to design and build a solar project on the West Riverside Landfill in Riverside County, CA. Because the project was taking place at a retired landfill, we coordinated with environmental agencies to determine what was feasible on the site to ensure the landfill cap would not be damaged. Because no underground work was allowed, we used above-ground rigid conduit and concrete-filled ballast pans to secure the racking system. This was still quite a challenge due to the amount of concrete needed, but the project was successfully completed, and the facility now houses 9,520 PV modules across nearly 15 acres.

We also installed an improved landfill cover and improved the area’s appearance around the landfill with new sidewalks, decorative fencing, lighting, and landscaping.

LEUSD Solar Carport Project

The LEUSD Solar Carport Project is a testament to successful logistical management and stakeholder coordination. Faced with the challenge of integrating solar power into multiple school campuses during COVID-19, Stronghold Engineering ensured smooth execution all around.

An innovative solution allowed the school district to save money by buying power from the West Riverside Landfill rather than building enough solar carports to handle the district’s power generation needs. The project went beyond just generating clean energy. It also included the installation of energy-efficient lighting, ADA accessibility improvements, plus hardscape and landscape improvements, enhancing the aesthetics and functionality of the school grounds. This successful collaboration between Stronghold Engineering, the school district, the Riverside County officials, the utility, and other stakeholders exemplifies how well-coordinated planning and execution can deliver impactful and multifaceted projects.

UCR Campus Solar Roof Initiative

The UCR campus solar roof initiative is a successful model for large-scale solar panel installations. Stronghold Engineering’s innovative approach played a key role in its achievement. We designed, built, and installed a large PV system on two large campus buildings, the Student Recreation Center and the Student Services Building, maximizing energy generation without compromising the architectural aesthetics. This involved retrofitting the roofs to ensure they could support the PV systems and using East/West facing systems with low tilt angles to reduce wind exposure, minimize inter-row shading, and maximize power efficiency. 

The UCR Campus Solar Roof project received numerous awards, including the 2022 ABC Regional Eagle Excellence in Construction Award, the 2022 ABC National Eagle Excellence in Construction Award, the 2022 ABC & DBIA Partnership Award Recognizing Efficiency in Design Build. It was named Solar Builder Magazine’s C&I Rooftop Project of the Year for 2022.

Contact Stronghold Engineering About Solar Farm Construction

Are you involved in a solar farm project? Our award-winning team tackles complex projects with innovative solutions, ensuring efficient, cost-effective construction that meets your clean energy goals. 

From concept to completion, Stronghold prioritizes quality and collaboration, delivering a successful solar solution for your needs. Stronghold Engineering has the experience, integrity, and innovative solutions you will want on your team to complete your solar project successfully. Contact us today for a consultation.