EME 810
Solar Resource Assessment and Economics

11.2 System Design

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Design is an extremely important aspect for successfully implementing solar energy systems. To illustrate this point, let us begin with a simple concept of what design is. A proposed theory that helps to provide understanding is that Design is PATTERN with a PURPOSE. Simply put, design is utilizing purposeful approaches to create systems that fit patterns. In Figure 11.1, below, we can see a cartoon illustrating a simplified pattern of relations. At the outside is the influence of the solar resource and ecosystems services, while the three inner rings are related to the coupled influence of the locale, the client, and the actual installed solar energy conversion technology. No useful project can be implemented without context and associated patterns. In fact, these patterns serve as guidelines and parameters for what a system can accomplish.

We can think about the region with respect to the connectivity to additional services (power grid, thermal lines), and think about the region with respect to the diversity of solar systems possible. Does a homeowner in Puerto Rico need large quantities of hot water, or the capacity to cool space?

Cartoon of rings of systems (in 2-D) like a target, with an arrow pointing toward the center, described in caption.
Figure 11.1 A systemized pattern of relations -- an essential for project implementation. Rings progress inward from solar resource, to ecosystems services, to locale, to client, and finally to the applied solar technology.
Credit: Jeffrey R. S. Brownson

A well-designed project will make use of an integrative process, an approach that essentially dictates that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. System design does not merely involve putting together all the required parts and constructing it into a functioning system. It involves careful consideration of how each part fits into the overall system goals set by the stakeholders(clients), while also taking account of the environmental context the system is meant to work in.

By emphasizing the integrated design approach, we identify the solar utility, client and stakeholder, and project locale as the three main components for the goal of solar design. Each of these cannot be addressed without engaging the frameworks of the other two. These components also play a vital role as constraints. Constraints are useful tools for designers since they serve as guidelines for the design decision process.

The design process starts with establishing system goals. The responsible stakeholders generally define the system goals by stating what requirements they have for the system. The solar designer must take this information, coupled with the project locale and solar utility, to determine how much energy can be produced. In the next few sections, we will go into some detail on all of these.

Failure to consider all the important aspects in the design of any project will eventually lead to a system that performs poorly.