Best Practices for Managing Risks in BTM Storage Project Development
Developing cutting-edge distributed energy projects can bring unique and unprecedented challenges that can delay or derail a project. This can have varied implications including increasing construction and management costs, missing project completion dates required by financing partners, and negative impacts on the relationship with the customers and contractors. For project managers, getting ahead of these risks and resolving them is a key part of the job. Below are some best practices to get ahead of potential issues one might face during a Behind the Meter (BTM) energy storage project build.
With brand new technologies, project managers cannot rely on established procedures. It is essential to clearly define the project scope, as well as the responsibilities and risk tolerances of all parties involved. When scopes change, as they frequently do, make sure to document the evolving requirements.
It is important to ensure full transparency with the host customer so that they are regularly updated and are involved with key decisions in the design process:
Make sure you thoroughly understand the site’s safety process, shutdown procedures, and general level of involvement desired so you can account for those in scheduling on-site tasks.
Split the design process into multiple stages to ensure that the customer has approved and commented on the location of the project site, conduit routing, communication plans, etc. The facilities manager is familiar with site-specific issues and can foresee problems that may arise during construction, guiding the design in a way to avoid such problems and/or reduce costs.
Update the customer on equipment changes, scope changes, and other issues that will affect the final project.
Be sure to include time for the customer’s and host customer’s review process. Build the customer’s process and timing into the schedule.
Understand the customer’s risk tolerance to ensure you alert them to problems that appear. However, since it is the project team’s job to resolve problems, you don’t want to alert the customer to every issue that pops up. Find the right balance to keep the customer satisfied and informed yet not overwhelmed with project information.
The interconnection process is almost always on the schedule’s critical path since even the slightest changes to the application can delay approval by 2-3 weeks.
Before starting design, make sure to understand the utility’s requirements. What types of reviews will be completed? What are the metering requirements? Are there any size thresholds that change the process?
Make sure you conduct a thorough transformer load analysis to make sure that adding the new load doesn't require a transformer upgrade.
Finalize the drawings and equipment before the start of the interconnection application:
Some sites have multiple meters under the same account, so it is critical to have the right meter number for the planned point of interconnection.
The single-line drawings should include all utility-specific interconnection notes and instructions. Understand the requirements before making submittals. Also note that the utility regularly updates these requirements and expects the developers to keep up with them.
Include any existing on-site generation in the interconnection application.
Make sure you understand exactly how long the initial application review, fast track review, and supplemental engineering review processes take and that those are accounted for in your scheduling.
Familiarize yourself with the process, lead times, and customer expectations for shutting down any electrical services. A shutdown will likely be required during construction, and potentially during the engineering phases.
Familiarize yourself with the applicable tariffs so you have the correct metering and control requirements and can forecast costs and schedule impacts of potential distribution upgrades.
KEEP PUSHING! The utility may not respond to you on your first email or your 40th, but eventually you will get someone on the line.
Make sure the general contractors are familiar with the submittal requirements, fee structures, and timelines of the various permitting departments (Planning, Building, Fire, etc.)
If a site specific or regional permit is required, such as the DSA or OSHPD, involve the customer site representative with the permitting process. They can usually recommend best practices for this specific permitting process and could have relationships with the AHJ that can help smooth out the process and avoid delays. Developing an in-person relationship with the account manager handling your application at the AHJ is highly recommended, as some comments may best be resolved via direct discussion or clarification, reducing overall permitting timelines.
Make sure enough time is allotted in the schedule to revise the submittals based on comments from the permitting department.
Review changing codes, especially the Fire Codes. As storage projects become more prevalent, cities are adopting more stringent codes that could have significant cost and schedule impacts.
Make sure the site manager for the host customer has completed understood and approved the staging requirements, construction timeline, tie-in dates, and other ways their operations might be effected during construction.
Before starting construction, set a Go / No Go meeting. Once crews have mobilized to the site, project delays become far costlier. By ensuring all parties are ready to start construction, you’ll reduce your risk of costly delays.
Set a pre-construction meeting with the host. Make sure you review traffic flows, hours of operation, sound requirements, and any other sensitivities the host may have. If you have a strong relationship with the host, you will be able to tackle and resolve issues that arise during construction. If, on the other hand, you have antagonized the host, they can make your project very difficult.
Continue to keep the host customer informed of the progress during construction. Understand their needs for updates, changes that affect their facility, and internal inspections.
Keep up the intensity through project close out. It can be challenging to collect final paperwork and close out punch list items, so keep pushing while you have everyone’s focus. A quick, succinct close out will reduce cost and headaches for everyone.
Understand the host’s needs for final reviews, documentation, and training. Make sure the customer gets what they need to continued operations.
You have probably noticed a theme in all our best practices – communication, responsiveness and setting expectations. If the project stakeholders know what is coming, get answers to their questions quickly, and are aligned on expectations, you will be able to complete your projects easily no matter what risks become realities.
Good luck! And let us know if you have any other best practices for Behind the Meter Energy Storage Projects