It’s one of the biggest misconceptions in project design and engineering: Permitting is all about technical compliance. Yes, you have to prove that the electrical system you intend to build satisfies all the codes that protect public safety. But there’s more to it than that. There’s an often-overlooked psychological component involved in the permitting process.
Imagine filing a permit application on a paper napkin. If it has all the necessary lines, squares and circles, equipment specifications, locations, and other requisite data, you’d have a complete application. But at least 9 times out of 10, your application would be rejected.
And for good reason. Because permitting is not only about code compliance. It’s about building trust and accountability. It’s about convincing the local permitting office that smart people have expertly designed your system for safety and reliability.
How do we win permit approvals? To begin with, we follow these five strategies:
Local permitters treat building and electrical codes the way that some people interpret the Bible, or the US Constitution. It’s not enough to size wire by multiplying output current by 125 percent. Instead, show your calculations and cite the latest version of National Electrical Code Article 690 approved in your jurisdiction, as well as any other applicable codes.
Spell out all the details so it’s clear that you not only know how to design systems but why the codes are in place to begin with. Plan checkers are going to ask questions. Get ahead of the game by showing them you know what you’re talking about.
Some system designers and engineers have a natural aversion to sharing too much with the permitting authority. As the thinking goes, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.
That’s not always the best approach. The concern with sharing too much information is that the permitting authority will seize on small details to probe deeper, delaying approval and potentially altering project plans.
In our experience, permitters behave according to human nature. If you withhold information, they treat you with suspicion and distrust. If you’re upfront about complexity and nuance as well as your thoughtful solutions, and you show open-mindedness in response to questioning, you gain a measure of respect. This dynamic will carry over to future visits to the permit office. Good representation will improve your reputation with local permitters.
Call for backup
In many cases, SepiSolar customers have contacted us from the service counter during a conversation with a permit officer. It’s like having an on-call technical support hotline. We can answer permitting questions in real time. On more than one occasion, at the conclusion of these conversations, our customers have walked away with approved permits in hand.
Hedge against risk
Search engines have made everybody seem smarter by putting information at our fingertips, but at the same time our knowledge base has become a mile wide and an inch deep. The same thing is happening to an extent with the UL standards for energy storage systems. People can cite UL 9540, but not the component-level certifications for batteries, inverters and other key products.
If you don’t understand the various UL standards, you increase risk in the permitting process. When projects depend on system-level certification, any question that comes up about the test lab used for UL listing, or the test procedures, or anything else, can slow down permitting and add on project costs. On the other hand, applicants who know they have inverters that comply with UL 1741 and batteries that comply with UL 1973 have a fallback plan, so they can hedge against risks in the permitting process.
Channel your inner electrician
A lot of solar designers and solar engineers know about the 120 percent rule pertaining to energy generation, but they have no idea about NEC Article 220, which is all about loads and load calculations. Electricians and electrical engineers, on the other hand, know Article 220 like the back of their hand, but not the common solar codes.
System integrators today in all segments of the market need to design for systems that can dynamically change modes of operation, ramping up or down, quickly or slowly, staying still, or supplying any number of power applications, such as reactive power and VAR control.
System controls have a direct impact on system safety and code compliance. Integrators should understand all the modes of operation and be sure system designs comply with each mode affecting generation and load.
Ask us about complete design and engineering services
If you would like to reduce risk in the permitting process for your solar and energy storage projects, find out how SepiSolar approaches design and engineering for C+I solar projects and energy storage projects, and send us your project specifications today for a fast and accurate design quote.
Raise your hand if you’re suffering from too much time and not enough email. Need a second to think about it? Nah, didn’t think so.
This question came up several times as we started developing a newsletter for the people we work with who lead solar, storage and microgrid projects in the commercial and industrial market. We’re pretty sure you didn’t wake up this morning wondering how to fill your time and hoping for a little more email to click on.
We’re all busy. To stay informed, you might read a few articles in the industry press or attend a few conferences and events throughout the year. But the process is inefficient. You might sift through dozens of headlines to find the ones that matter. It can also be expensive. Traveling to a conference can easily cost $1,000 per person or more.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get a concise email once a month that’s filled exclusively with information about C&I projects?
We think so too. That’s why we’re launching SepiSolar’s monthly C&I project newsletter.
The first edition will be published in November. Become one of our first free subscribers. Sign up now.
C&I Project Newsletter
News providers used to try and be everything to everyone. The New York Times still claims to publish “all the news that’s fit to print.” You can buy a plain sweatshirt with the slogan printed in a small box for $85.Any size you like.
A lot of company newsletters fall short for another reason, because they’re too self-promotional. Five years ago, a service that helps people unsubscribe from email lists called Unroll.me published a list of the email newsletters with the highest opt-out rates. The flower delivery service 1800 Flowerstopped the charts with a 52.5 percent unsubscribe rate. More than half of subscribers wanted out.
We value your time. So let’s be clear from the start. If you are not a project manager, the head of operations, or an executive who leads solar, storage, or microgrid projects for C&I customers, the C&I project newsletter probably isn’t for you.
However, if you’d like to hear about new ideas in permitting, interconnection, project design and engineering, and more, we think you’ve come to the right place.
In SepiSolar’s C&I project newsletter, you’ll find original content created through a collaboration between our professional engineering and technical sales, who assure that you’re getting high-quality, authentic information, and our communications team, who head up content planning, writing and editing.
We want your ideas
In the months ahead, we have a lot of ideas that we’re excited to cover.
How to discharge batteries from the customer side of the meter into the grid and collect net energy metering credits.
How to resolve the eternal debate over DC coupling versus AC coupling once and for all.
What lessons have we learned from the 2019 APS battery fire.
We welcome your ideas! Please contact us to share topics that you’d like us to cover in the C&I project newsletter. Let us know if you’re interested in contributing an article yourself. And once you’ve seen the newsletter, please share feedback.
The Solar Energy Industries Association’s latest Solar Means Business report, published in July, identified over 7 GW of solar projects delivering energy to corporate solar users, up from 2.5 GW of projects that were cited in the prior year’s report. The growth of C&I projects might seem mind blowing, but it’s still just the tip of the iceberg.
Get ready for much more to come from solar, storage and microgrids. Subscribe to the C&I project newsletter today.
Every once in a while, we get a familiar request — a contractor asks to “fast track” a new solar project. We say: Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.
Our response wasn’t always this way. At one point, customers wouldn’t even have to ask to speed up the design and engineering process. They wanted deliverables quickly — yesterday — and at low cost. We delivered. Sort of.
Soon, we learned that while we could deliver on the front-end, we had too little control over the back-end. We were working too quickly. Customer requests for design changes would come weeks, sometimes months, after delivery of the original plan set. This increased project costs and risk in the long run.
At SepiSolar, we have introduced structure, definition, and organization to the project design and engineering process with discrete handoffs, milestones, stages, and defined activities. We control project costs, timeline, scope, quality, liability, customer success and safety, reducing cost and risk to the project.
We used to try explaining to customers one-by-one why no engineer has the power to expedite projects.
Each project dictates its own timeline according to the project data at hand, the complexity of the project, climate, and other variables that we cannot control. If a commercial property has no as-built plans available, someone needs to conduct a site survey and perform discovery on key aspects of the facility. There are faster ways and slower ways to perform discovery, but you cannot fast-track your way through it.
In other words, the job of the engineer is not to tell the project how much time it has. Rather, we listen and then help the EPC get through it.
The C&I Solar Risk Management Guide covers the key milestones from starting a project plan set to matching the as-built conditions of a completed project. Milestones include:
Permit plan set
Revised permit plan set
Managing risk means having a clear and complete idea of the scope of work up front and catching all components and elements of design and engineering that need to be specified, budgeted for, and tracked. When changes occur, it is usually due to lack of specificity in the original scope of work, or something that nobody saw coming. Surprises increase cost. We don’t like surprises in construction.
By thoroughly defining the scope of work up front and identifying potential surprises that could come back to bite us, we proceed with projects in stages, never getting too far ahead of ourselves without all the necessary information.
Subway, the fast-food chain, recognizes the value of risk management. At the lunch counter, the selection of bread drives the development of the meal. You might ask for the pit-smoked brisket and then wonder why your server holds still, waiting for you to choose between six-inch and foot-long subs made of Italian bread, whole wheat, or something else. You’re hungry. Can’t they go a little faster?
If the server rushed ahead with the wrong bread, there would be an even longer delay as he builds your sandwich a second time. Bad move. Now you’re really getting hangry. Subway’s process won’t set any sandwich-making speed records. But it’s dependable, time and time again.
How to use the C&I Solar Risk Management Guide
Our goal with the solar risk management guide is twofold. First, we want to point out how engineering and design can have a big impact on project success, even though it accounts for a small share of project costs. Second, we want project and operations managers to know what you can expect from a structured, highly organized project design process.
Have a look at the guide. Download a copy of the project milestones, and share it with your team.
How does your project design process compare to ours? Are we following similar paths? Where are the differences? If you have questions or comments about the C&I Solar Risk Management Guide, join the conversation with us on LinkedIn.