As expansive solar and energy storage projects spread across the globe, so does the common misconception that executing these projects is simple. Construction for a solar field may appear less cumbersome than for a combined-cycle power plant, but that does not mean expensive and potentially detrimental issues could not arise. The assembly-line nature of installing thousands of photovoltaic (PV) panels or batteries on a site means that one mistake could be repeated over and over again.
To reduce unintended consequences in solar and storage installations, owners should consider the benefits of working with an integrated engineer-procure-construct (EPC) firm.
Exploring an Integrated EPC Approach
While EPC is a typical delivery method for solar and storage projects, an experienced and knowledgeable team that is fully integrated and under one roof is rare. Often a single installation project involves five or more separate subcontractors to execute PV engineering, battery energy storage system (BESS) and balance-of-plant (BOP) engineering, BESS integration, high-voltage engineering, and overarching construction.
In contrast, an integrated EPC firm has all services required to deliver the desired power or energy capacity on time and within budget. With access to permitting specialists, a multidisciplinary engineering team and construction resources — already working together, experienced as an effective unit — owners can gain extensive benefits from having only one contract, one integrated execution team and a single direct contact. This full-service, in-house team approach allows continual and seamless collaboration across all necessary specialties focused on the sole end goal: a safe and successful project.
Before the design is finalized, for example, integrated environmental specialists can identify any site constraints, such as wetland areas or underground piping, as well the local permitting rules and regulations. High-voltage engineers can weigh in on interconnection and substation requirements, and thermal management specialists can provide valuable insight on energy storage system cooling requirements, all to provide the owner with accurate information on project challenges, as opposed to passing that from subcontractor to subcontractor.
Having all personnel involved and available from day one also helps the project progress smoothly. Engineers who work closely on-site with construction personnel better understand the execution process, and therefore can provide a construction-led design that encompasses implementation sequencing. This is an essential mindset for the design of solar and storage projects because of their highly repetitive installation process. A construction-minded design can plan for site nuances, such as where to include civil features like temporary retention basins and temporary laydown areas, as well as the proper order of construction — enhancing project efficiencies and reducing the need to go back to the drawing board if issues arise.
This close collaboration among construction, engineering and all other team members not only helps to see that the design is accurate, holistic and implemented correctly, but also helps the team to pivot quickly and safely throughout the project. If an issue were to arise, the entire team would be available and prepared to determine a prompt, safe and cost-effective alternate solution.
Additionally, integrated EPC firms are incentivized to make the overall project successful, not just one part. EPC project teams composed of multiple subcontractors and subconsultants can create a situation in which individual contractors are focused solely on their piece to maximize returns for their company. Integrated firms do not succeed unless and until the overall project succeeds.
Putting Value First
The demand for solar and storage projects right now is booming, and owners have a wide array of firms and implementation methods to choose from. Before making a choice heavily weighted by cost, it’s vital to equally consider the team dynamic. An integrated EPC firm offers exceptional value and understanding of all project aspects, including environmental, design, construction and commissioning, with seamless and ongoing communication to mitigate risks and deliver a final product with the preferred performance within budget and schedule.
As renewable projects get larger and more complex, and as more utilities and independent power producers consider solar-plus-storage facilities, the value of utilizing an integrated EPC firm will only continue to grow.
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