Energy investment requires long-term planning, with a master plan that looks beyond the challenges of immediate transition to incorporate future scalability. Planning must also ensure that stakeholder goals and strategies align with the overall business environment for many years to come.
“When a project is being pushed to get completed, it can fall off in the delivery phase,” says Dan Manderson. “Planning for a renewable energy project needs to incorporate much more than just the lowest costs.”
Think ahead: With technology advancing rapidly, chances are that the technology identified for use in the early stages of a project will be outdated by the time construction begins.
A good example of this can be seen in the case of bifacial solar panels. WSP recently wrote a technical briefing note on their commercial use, where we address different elements relating to the technology, from mounting structure heights to row spacing, and from plant layout to economic analysis.
“It is inevitable that new, more efficient technology is just around the corner, so planning needs to account for the integration of new technology later on in the process, without disrupting everything,” says Rob Istchenko. “That requires flexibility and forward thinking, with as little commitment to any one specific technology as possible.”
Storing for the future: Energy storage technology is another rapidly evolving area that is reshaping the industry. With the ability to apply excess power generated during the day to critical resources at night, energy storage developments are transforming business models, with new incentive schemes being integrated into the equation. In February 2019, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, switched on “the world’s largest virtual battery plant,” with a capacity to store 648 MWh of power in order to balance grid demand and keep the city supplied for up to six hours in the event of an outage.
“Working in the Middle East, we have learned that when the region goes renewable, it goes big, and scale has important implications,” says Richard Lappin. “With national Renewable Energy programs requiring investment in the range of $55-60 billion, long-term planning is essential for protecting the investment and ensuring that scalability is facilitated for many years to come.”
With a solid master plan in hand, the focus shifts to execution, and all facets of a renewable strategy must unfold according to that plan. The execution phase requires intense attention to detail in order to avoid seemingly minor issues that can have enormous consequences.
Keep it simple: Simple things, not necessarily related to design or engineering, can go wrong and lead to major impacts. Undetected micro-cracks in offloaded solar panels, or poorly laid cables, can easily reduce the efficiency of an entire project.
“Being careful and implementing robust quality control during construction and installation from the start can have major benefits on a project for 25 years or more,” notes Tim Rippon. “It’s important to have a partner who understands the whole process and can act as an Owner’s Engineer or Independent Engineer.”
Think local: Complete reliance on international developers with little local knowledge can raise obstacles to the attainment of renewable energy goals. Lack of familiarity with local complexities of regulatory, labour, climate, grid connection, and other issues can lead stakeholders back to the planning table.
“Projects get delayed because of lack of local knowledge,” says Dan Manderson. “Therefore, it’s essential to have the evaluation and risk assessment performed by a local firm that knows and understands the local market.”