By Jason Ainscough, Quality Services Director, WSP
If you’ve ever done any DIY, you’ll be familiar with the old adage about measuring twice and cutting once. You might have had it drilled into you at school, at college or by your parents. Double-checking your measurements before you break out the power tools can prevent installing a wonky shelf or having to start all over again. The same principle applies to developing energy projects, albeit the stakes are much higher.
Whether it’s offshore wind, a solar farm, an undersea high-voltage interconnector or a conventional power plant, developing energy projects is complex, involving vast quantities of materials, expensive equipment and multiple interfaces between suppliers. They take years to build, consume a lot of resources and cost a lot of money. And they’re subject to stringent planning and environmental regulations. A right-first-time approach is crucial.
Mistakes are inevitable, but they don’t have to be costly
Let’s look at building a power plant. No matter what the fuel – gas, biomass, energy-from-waste or others – it involves thousands of people, and people inevitably make occasional mistakes. With each mistake having the potential to waste time, money, and resources – and to cause reputational damage – the key is to catch and correct them early. This is where early interventions come in.
It’s not commercially viable to inspect every last detail over and over again (despite the equivalent Russian proverb that translates as ‘measure seven times, cut once’). But an experienced, accredited inspection body like ours knows where to target inspections: in the areas where mistakes are most likely and where they matter most. Then, at every critical step in the process – during design, manufacture or construction – they can check for errors. Does a particular structure or piece of equipment match requirements, conform to regulations and fulfil the client’s expectation?
Take power transformers, for example. These are large, complex pieces of equipment with recognised standards for manufacture and testing. Although every manufacturer adheres to those standards, codes aren’t foolproof. Even though a transformer will have passed all the required tests, we still recommend that we inspect it because we have often observed foreign material within the active part (the copper windings) before it’s sealed up.
We don’t do this because it’s part of a code or standard; we do it because we’ve seen too many transformers fail in service because of metallic debris, or objects left inside during manufacture, or site inspections resulting in damage to the windings and consequent business interruption. Failure in service or commissioning inevitably leads to delays and spiralling costs. This happens even when manufacturers or suppliers have done their own checks. Measure twice, cut once.
Accuracy matters for planning requirements
It’s not just about the equipment though; the fabric of the building is just as important. For a Development Consent Order (DCO) – a statutory instrument that permits the development of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project like a power plant – developers need to set out the size and shape of the building they’re proposing. But at this stage, they don’t want to tie themselves to a particular equipment manufacturer because it’s not cost-effective. So, the power plant has to be designed to be capable of accommodating all the different permutations of suppliers’ equipment. Yet if the design is too big or just a big box without details, the DCO may not be granted as it does not accurately portray what the plant will look like and environmental impact cannot be assessed.
The plants also have to be built in line with limits set in the DCO. If it can’t, re-applying for the DCO can add years to the schedule and millions to project costs, and the reputational damage to an organisation can be far more costly. Accuracy matters, so we always measure twice and cut once. We draw on all our skills and experience to achieve the client’s ideal balance between accuracy, flexibility and costs.
This year, more than ever, there’s pressure on everyone to reduce waste – whether that’s measured in time, resources or money. Ultimately, that’s exactly what the Energy team at WSP does. Measure twice, cut once.