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The scale and cost of related earthworks can be a barrier to the implementation of photovoltaic solar projects. In Spain, INOVE Ingeniería has designed an innovative tool to optimise these works and make complex projects more viable.

Since 2008, solar electricity production in the European Union has increased by more than 20 times. According to the European Commission, solar could cover up to 20% of member states’ needs by 2040. However, there is a question to be answered: where to build and install the photovoltaic projects needed to accelerate and scale up this key renewable energy for environmental transformation?

“With numerous power plants in development, adding to those already in place, it is becoming increasingly difficult for developers to find sites with suitable topography,” explains Alejandro Barón Santana, Renewable Energies Business Manager at INOVE Ingeniería, a VINCI Energies Spain business unit.

As a result, he adds, more and more plants are being installed on rough terrain. This means that engineering the earthworks for photovoltaic structures requires increasingly complex and precise calculations. “There are few multifunctional and agile solutions for this on the market,” says Alejandro Barón. “Existing software packages cannot optimise the installation of facilities. And engineering services are generally expensive and involve lengthy design phases. We therefore decided to develop our own tool to offer our customers an optimised service.”

Economic and environmental viability

This solution, named “INOVE MDT Tool”, was developed in the second half of 2023 and has been used on several projects since then. How does it work? Based on terrain data and the photovoltaic structure requirements, the tool looks for the solution that minimises earthwork costs while meeting all implementation criteria.

“A tool capable of adapting to the specific requirements of contracts, manufacturers and customers”

“The software takes account of the real cost of excavated and backfill material supplied by the customer,” says the expert from INOVE Ingeniería. “Based on this data, it makes calculations to minimise the total cost of the project.”

He adds, “INOVE MDT Tool can be used at different stages of the project: in the development phase, to make the project viable and optimise the earthworks, while remaining compliant with environmental restrictions; and in the construction phase, potentially generating tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of euros in cost savings, depending on the topographical complexity and scale of the project.”

The tool is built on Excel-VBA, making it easy to use. Once the solution has been found, the earthworks are presented using AutoCAD computer-assisted design software and the DTM (Digital Terrain Model), providing a representation of the ground surface.

“Because the tool is an in-house development which enables us to adapt to the specific requirements of contracts, manufacturers and customers,” adds Alejandro Barón. INOVE MDT Tool has already been used on several projects carried out in Spain by Omexom Sevilla Renovables.