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Top 5 Tips to Seamlessly Integrate Solar Racking Systems with Civil Plans

Integrating solar racking systems with civil plans is a critical aspect of successful solar energy projects. From setbacks to spacing to control pad and access road locations, the entire site is designed around the racking system. Changes to the racking system mid-design can lead to added engineering costs and schedule delays. Given their size, ground-mounted utility-scale solar installations require especially meticulous planning and coordination between electrical and civil engineering teams, developers, and suppliers to avoid unplanned expenses and delays. To ensure a seamless integration of solar racking systems with civil plans and de-risk your solar project, consider the following top tips:

  1. Select the racking system before anything else. Don't get the cart before the horse. As far as proper civil planning goes, the choice of racking system is as important as the choice of parcel. Choosing the right racking system for the job starts your solar project off on the right foot. Starting the civil design without the racking system can be a major waste of funds and time.

  1. Be decisive and do not alter your racking system selection. Changes to the racking system mid-design normally leads to added engineering costs and schedule delays. Civil design works upon initial assumptions to define the variables for the required calculations. Changes to the initial assumptions can cause a 60% design to go back to the 30% or even 10% stage. The significant impact of changing the racking system after civil plans are underway cannot be understated.

  1. Leverage PVcase for greater accuracy and efficiency. PVcase does a great job of estimating the civil work as far as the grading and layout are concerned. The civil designs will often be very close or exactly matching the PVcase model. PVcase allows you to input the design parameters of the chosen racking system in the software and overlay it upon the topography of the site. You can then see the amount of grading needed to meet that system’s tolerances. A business decision can then be made as to a more expensive but higher tolerance system, or if a lower tolerance, less expensive system can be used.  

  1. Pay attention to and incorporate the unique needs of each region. For example, two unique considerations for agricultural projects in the Midwest are drain tiles and topsoil. Both are resources for farming and retain their value once the useful life of the solar project is complete. Disturbed topsoil from prime farmland will most likely need to be stored on site and preserved for the remediation effort once the solar field is decommissioned. In these cases, it is often most economical to minimize the volume of topsoil disturbed by selecting racking systems that follow the contours of the project and require less earthwork for installation. Drain tiles should be identified and protected during construction and operation of the solar field. 

  1. Work closely with the racking vendor to produce a viable system layout. By providing a viable layout that meets the developer’s requirements for the civil engineer, they can ascertain with some certainty if the proposal will meet the requirements of the site prior to committing to a design. Including the racking vendor in the QC process for the issue for permitting plans prior to submission to the AHJ allows the racking subject matter expert (SME) to discern potential changes that need to be made. This also helps to provide buy-in by the racking vendor for the developer. 

Integrating solar racking systems with civil plans requires leveraging advanced technology, careful planning, collaboration, and attention to detail. By following these top tips, project stakeholders can ensure a seamless integration process, maximize energy production, reduce unforeseen expenses and comply with regulatory requirements. If you have any questions about how to seamlessly integrate racking systems with civil plans for your utility-scale solar project, get in touch with an expert at Castillo Engineering. 


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