Important Considerations For Solar Project Developers: The SEI Professional Services (SEIPS) Advantage
by Jeff Ruppert, P.E. – Chief Executive Officer
SEIPS is proud to offer the very best quality assurance (QA) and engineering services to the solar industry. SEIPS consulting and design services include in-house licensed electrical, civil, and structural engineers. SEIPS offers QA site inspections during and after construction, commissioning services, and performance testing. SEIPS also offers ongoing evaluation services of existing systems and troubleshooting. These services are offered across the globe in connection with the reach the Solar Energy International (SEI) network.
In this article, Jeff Ruppert, P.E., President and Professional Engineer for SEIPS answers some questions about project development and the advantage of the SEIPS approach.
In the current landscape of large scale solar PV projects, how does the process from concept to completion flow when it comes to SEIPS working with project developers?
I want to start out by emphasizing the assumption that this response is in the “current landscape” of today’s PV industry. There are many models of PV project development, meaning there is a multitude of ways to approach them. The typical project flow may change as tax credits phase out and as prices of equipment continue to drop. In today’s industry climate a typical project may look like the following…
During initial project discovery, which includes land control, interconnection due diligence, preliminary system modeling, financial backing, and creation of a project pro-forma, SEIPS is often engaged by a project developer to provide a technical feasibility study and may also be asked to provide a financial feasibility model. This is what we call the Feasibility Stage and may result in a viable project. Many times nothing else happens if the project does not meet financial or legal goals.
Once the project has been deemed financially and legally viable, and someone decides to pull the trigger to spend the effort and money to move forward, the first step is to compile the necessary documentation for the interconnection application to the utility. This process entails creating a technical model of the system and creating a system layout and single line diagram (SLD) in CAD. Once these items are complete we will fill out the appropriate fields on the interconnection application for the client and turn everything over to them for submittal to the utility. At this point we usually are in a holding pattern on that particular project while the utility reviews, possibly asks questions for our engineers, and then ideally approves the application.
Once the client gets a green light from the utility, detailed engineering plans are prepared by SEIPS for permitting and bidding purposes. Somewhere during the detailed engineering process, partially completed plans may be shared with installation contractors in an RFP process so the developer is able to identify one or two finalists once the plans are completed. This type of process assumes a developer chooses to control the design process, thereby maintaining direct control over the system that contractors can equally bid on. Another route is to have SEIPS complete the plans sometimes up to 90% and then recieve contractor input to tailor the system to their procurement process. In this case, SEIPS will typically complete the engineering from 90% to 100% IFC in coordination with the contractor.
Another valuable service SEIPS offers is construction contract review and editing to include language between the developer and a contractor that ensures the highest level of quality is maintained throughout the construction process. This is basically an exercise in making sure the contract is in sync with the design and specifies how minimum levels of quality shall be attained during construction. This could apply to anything from access road construction to wire management.
Once construction begins, SEIPS may be engaged to provide quality assurance inspections, commissioning services at the end of the project, and/or performance evaluation to ensure the PV system is safely operating and delivers the expected amount of energy.
By having SEIPS engaged throughout project development, the developer is able to control quality and has a trusted partner working on their behalf making sure the system is installed correctly to the highest industry standards, backed by SEIPS and our trusted network of industry experts.
So how does the project flow described above differ from typical projects where a Developer turns the project development and quality control over to an EPC?
The solar industry, like a few other industries, often uses the term EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) when referring to an installing contractor. When a true EPC is used on a project they provide an entire design-build service.
The scenario described above means that the Developer takes more control of the “E” and “P” aspects of the EPC and plays a more proactive role in defining quality, equipment, and performance goals. Each developer will have different goals and may choose to only control the “E” or parts of the “P” aspect as opposed to completely controlling both components of the process. As the Developer takes on more of a role in project development to ensure quality, they will require staff to oversee project details and/or they engage SEIPS to provide the oversight needed to ensure a top-tier design and robust installation.
How does involving SEIPS from the beginning and throughout the development process benefit everyone involved?
The letters “SEI” in SEIPS stand for Solar Energy International, which is the preeminent expert and largest solar training organization in the world. As an affiliate of Solar Energy International, SEIPS often utilizes the SEI network of industry experts. These folks literally train the PV industry. By having our involvement in any form on a PV project, a Developer has a much higher chance of success and will probably spend less time and money fixing things after construction is complete, which can delay project startup and increase O&M expense.
It is widely accepted as wisdom in any industry that you can either pay a little up front to ensure quality is upheld throughout the development cycle, or pay much more during construction and after project completion fixing mistakes and accepting a lower system performance. At SEIPS we can attest that the low-quality scenario is played out thousands of times each year on PV projects because we are the people who troubleshoot those projects and fix them. The PV industry is one where margins are constantly being squeezed at all levels, thereby unintentionally driving lower quality installations. A little bit of insurance in the form of quality control is much cheaper than scrambling at the end of a project and possibly missing the opportunity for tax credits or worse by defaulting on a contract to your financiers.
How this plays out in real life is up to the developer or owner of a project. SEIPS can become involved as early as the concept and feasibility stage and provide continuity throughout the entire project, or we can play more of a background role during critical points of the project. By working closely with the developer or owner from the beginning of a project we become intimately aware of their goals and priorities. By having a third-party as part of the team you are ensuring that a standard of quality is maintained for successful project delivery.
What can be observed from previous work where this SEIPS model was allowed to play out?
Many of our clients benefit from our engineering services alone, but we have additional success when we are able to see projects all the way through from development to engineering to site inspections to commissioning to O&M oversight.
The SEIPS designer’s experience and attention to detail show in our plan sets. We have a unique internal review process where we closely review each other’s work before submitting to our clients. We have a tight knit team of technical experts who love what they do and connect often to discuss changing code implementation, best design practices, and to coordinate on design decisions for each and every project. We even have team members who sit on a code making panel (CMP-4) for the National Electrical Code® and this helps us prepare for upcoming changes.
As mentioned earlier, the extra value of our core engineering services is increased the earlier we are involved in the development process. We “go to bat” for our clients and take the time to ensure smart decisions are made. Previous work has shown that extending our services to have our field technicians involved is often very beneficial. Our field technicians specialize in code compliance, commissioning, testing, and performance verification. This level of quality control allows us to confidently complete final reports that wrap up the project and provide a record of a properly designed and installed system.
So how are past clients responding to the SEIPS way of doing business?
We just received this awesome bit of feedback from a client we are currently working with on large scale PV and energy storage projects. Check it out:
“Working with SEIE has been an absolute pleasure. SEIE has a full staff of extremely knowledgeable solar professionals. All of the projects designed by SEIE for J. Ranck Electric are top-notch designs. SEIE has been extremely responsive to every one of my requests while always staying at or below budget and on schedule. In my line of work, I deal with a large number of solar engineering/design firms and by far SEIE has my vote for #1 in the country.”
– James Mann
Ranck Electric, Inc.
Project Manager – Renewable Energy Division
Jeff Ruppert, P.E.
Chief Executive Officer
Jeff is a founder of SEIPS and SEIE and started with SEIPS in January of 2015. He acts as the Business Manager for both entities, and as the Owner and registered Professional Engineer at SEIE for licensure purposes across the U.S. His responsibilities include business development, negotiating and executing contracts, resolving legal issues, reporting to the SEI Board of Directors, and oversight of many administrative tasks, IT systems development, marketing, and of course engineering.
Contact SEI Professional Services (SEIPS) Today!
SEI Professional Services (SEIPS) leverages decades of experience in the solar industry to take your solar project from concept to reality. No matter what stage you are currently at in your solar project planning or construction – we are here to serve you. SEIPS can assist you as an industry leading solar energy consulting company to ensure your project gets completed on time and within budget for years of reliable clean energy production.
SEIPS provides expert services during every stage of the project development cycle from concept to commissioning and beyond through operations and maintenance (O&M) services. Contact us today and one of our technical specialists will work with you to maximize your solar project. Contact Jeff Ruppert PE, Business Manager / Civil Engineer for SEI Professional Services / SEI Engineering @ (970) 948-5744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.