Design and Specify the Project

By Thomas E. Glavinich | Sep 15, 2012
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Once the owner has secured funding for an energy services project, the next step is installation design. Most energy services projects follow the design/build method of delivery, since they are typically retrofit projects and the result of working directly with the owner on the previous six steps in the project delivery process.

The level of design detail required depends on the scope and complexity of the energy services project. The design can range anywhere from a simple work order for a service technician to a full set of plans and specifications prepared either by the electrical contractor’s in-house design group, an outside consulting engineering firm that is subcontracted to the EC, or a combination of both. The energy services project’s design and specification is a prerequisite for the following two steps in the energy services project delivery process, which I’ll cover in forthcoming issues.

Energy services project design
By the time the energy services project has reached this step, major design decisions should have already been made and the technical requirements for key equipment determined. This step should be mainly about detailing and documenting the design based on the work that has been done in the previous six steps. The design detail should be determined by what is needed to ensure vendors supply the right materials and equipment; obtain necessary permits, approvals or certifications from government entities, utilities or others; and perform a proper installation. In addition, the level of design detail should account for the customer’s after-installation needs including the design documentation that is needed for operation and maintenance (O&M) and for future expansion.

Third-party design requirements
Besides the need to document the energy services project design for procurement, installation and O&M, third parties may require specific design and documentation requirements. Third parties include local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), the serving utility and government agencies. Drawings and specifications may need to be submitted to one or more of them for review and approval. For example, the AHJ may need design documents submitted for code compliance building permit issuance.

The utility may want to review the project plans and specifications for distributed generation installations, such as a photovoltaic array, that will be connected in parallel with the customer’s utility service. The purpose of the utility’s review is to ensure the system will not interfere with its distribution system or adjacent customers and that it will be safe for its crews when performing routine distribution system maintenance or service restoration after an outage.
Government agencies and the utility may also want to review the design to ensure the system will operate as required to qualify for tax credits, utility rebates and other financial incentives.

In addition to technical requirements, third parties may also require the energy services project design documentation to be sealed by a registered professional engineer, be approved by an individual with a particular industry certification, or both. This is particularly important for the customer because there are places where designer qualifications are a prerequisite for the owner to receive financial incentives that are available for the energy services project from government agencies, the serving utility or others. If the designer does not have the required qualifications, the owner may lose out on anticipated financial incentives, which can significantly affect the customer’s project return on investment and payback period.

Importance of specifications
Material and equipment specifications are often reduced to what is required for a purchase order on design/build projects. This action is understandable since the EC has performed the design and knows what needs to be procured in order to complete the installation. However, the EC also is responsible for meeting the customer’s stated project requirements for the installation and its performance. The EC should take time to prepare detailed specifications of key material and equipment needed for the energy services project. These specifications should address the technical and performance requirements of these key materials and equipment as well as commercial terms and conditions, such as delivery, warranties and guarantees. Without a detailed specification, the EC has no assurance that the materials and equipment provided by suppliers will meet the original installation requirements or achieve the level of performance required by the customer over the life of the installation.

The author thanks ELECTRI International Inc. for its sponsorship of the research 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 [email protected].

About The Author

Thomas E. Glavinich was an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. His tenure as one of Electrical Contractor's most trusted and reliable source of industry research ended in 2014 when he passed away. Click here for more about Tom.

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