As demand for renewable energy continues to soar, utilities are increasingly looking for solutions to bridge the gaps of intermittent solar and wind generation. Reciprocating engines are one such solution, providing the ability to ramp up and down quickly to deliver the flexibility that consumers require. However, installing these engines involves much more than just equipment and can come with unknowns and potential risks, even when working on a greenfield site.

To help foresee potential challenges and mitigate risks with reciprocating engine projects, an engineer-procure-construct (EPC) contractor can offer much-needed cost certainty for utilities. Two of the most significant benefits are the freedom of a vendor-agnostic approach and the security of a holistic approach.

The freedom of a vendor-agnostic approach: Reciprocating engines are not one-size-fits-all projects. Different vendors offer different megawatt (MW) ranges, fuel flexibility, pricing and more. When designing a reciprocating engine project, an EPC firm evaluates these variances and helps determine the right fit for a facility or site based on an overarching knowledge of the industry. For example, achieving 50 MW may require three engines from one manufacturer or five from another, while one may only work with natural gas and another may handle both natural gas and diesel fuel. An EPC firm will also be able to determine which engine configuration would most efficiently function within a layout, without being hampered by vendor preferences.

The security of a holistic approach: Reciprocating engine projects involve so much more than simply procuring and installing the engines. Cost-effective implementation hinges on properly addressing all of the peripheral moving pieces, such as environmental permitting, craft labor markets and availability, and knowledge of federal and local codes. For example, a project may require tying the engines to an existing substation or transmission line, designing and building an administration facility, or interconnecting to a gas pipeline — all items that an EPC firm can specialize in.

By leveraging this extensive industry knowledge and overarching experience, EPC contractors can minimize scope gaps for complex reciprocating engine project execution. This holistic view incorporates not only the cost of the recommended engines, but also leverages preliminary engineering to reveal and solve for potential risks — all before the project even begins. That way the client can know a true, full-scope cost estimate including labor rates in the region, scheduling and productivity, and all other potential factors.


EPC sets the pace to design and build one of the nation’s largest reciprocating engine plants in less than two years.

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Tim Carey, PE, PMP, is regional energy practice manager for Burns & McDonnell in Chicago. His team focuses on power plants and other heavy industries, serving clients on projects from small studies through to full EPC execution.