Steps No. 8 and No. 9 of the energy services project delivery process involve procurement, installation, and integration of materials and equipment into operational systems to meet the customer’s energy conservation, efficiency, production and reliability needs.

Once the installation is complete, usually the customer inspects the work to identify and document any issues that the electrical contractor (EC) needs to correct prior to final completion. This process makes up Step No. 10, commissioning and project close out.

Inspection after installation controls quality and fixes issues in the completed work. Commissioning is better than simply inspecting the completed project. It proactively identifies and corrects problems throughout the project’s design, procurement and installation. It also provides the EC with an effective tool for demonstrating and documenting that project requirements have been met and eliminates expensive disputes, rework, call-backs, and schedule problems.

Why commission?
Commissioning is the systematic process by which the EC verifies that the installed equipment and systems are safe, functional and meet the customer’s project requirements as expressed in the contract documents. It is important on a traditional design/bid/build (DBB) project because it will show that the materials and equipment have been installed according to the customer’s plans and specifications.

Design/build energy-services projects and DBB projects that include performance specifications result in the EC being responsible for system performance as well as installation, which makes commissioning even more important on these projects.

The commissioning process—along with its outcomes—should clearly demonstrate that the installed project meets the customer’s requirements.

Commissioning process in a nutshell
The commissioning process for a project breaks down in to a five-step plan:

1. Develop a commissioning plan.
2. Perform prefunctional inspection, testing and startup.
3. Verify control system performance.
4. Perform functional system testing and verification.
5. Compile and transfer commissioning documentation to customer.

Developing a plan is key to the success of commissioning and the project itself.

A well-crafted commissioning plan will lead to the other four steps and provide objective criteria against which the energy service project performance and quality can be measured.

The criteria should be based on contractually required project outcomes; applicable industry codes, standards and recommended practices; and manufacturer recommendations.

Once installed, equipment should undergo prefunctional inspection, testing and startup (PITS) in accordance with the commissioning plan.

For energy services projects, a control system (typically software-driven) integrates standalone equipment, such as luminaires, and control devices, such as sensors, into a functioning system.

Next, control system performance is tested to verify that it functions properly.

Step 4 tests the whole-system operation to ensure that all of the individual components are working together as an integrated system.

In the final step, all the commissioning documentation is compiled and transferred to the customer. This documents not only the results of the commissioning process but also record drawings, programs, shop drawings and catalog cuts, manufacturer operation and maintenance manuals, material and equipment guarantees and warranties, training materials and records, and other relevant information.

When should the process start?
Development of the commissioning plan should start during the proposal or bidding stage of the energy services project.

The EC should review the request for proposal (RFP) or bid documents to determine if the requirements are measurable and, if so, how the commissioning process can be used to demonstrate that the customer’s installation and operational requirements have been met.

If the project outcomes expressed in the RFP or bid documents are fuzzy or ill-defined, the EC should develop measurable performance criteria based on its understanding of the customer’s requirements along with applicable industry codes, standards, recommended practices and customs.

The EC should incorporate these requirements into the bid or proposal, the contract either explicitly or by reference, and in the basis of the commissioning plan.

A well-executed commissioning process should result in increased customer satisfaction, improved project profitability, and future energy services project opportunities for the EC.

The author thanks ELECTRI International Inc. for sponsoring the project, “Energy Roadmap: Electrical Contractor’s Guide for Expanding Into the Emerging Energy Market,” on which this article is based.


GLAVINICH is director of Architectural Engineering & Construction Programs and an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 and tglavinich@ku.edu.