Blue Oak Energy incorporates three client review and approval processes in a typical engineering project. Why do we have three approval sessions for a typical engineering project? There are several reasons, but the main answer is that Blue Oak Energy endeavors to work closely with the customer, ensuring collaborative effort in every engineered decision on our commercial and utility scale solar electric systems. Approvals are typically provided at the 30 percent, 60 percent and 90 percent levels of completion.
The initial 30 percent approval process deals with the array layout and configuration of the solar array. The grid interconnection is also specified in great detail at the 30% design because the grid interconnection method is a significant cost risk. The initial 30 percent design is a system overview which is comprised of three to six drawing sheets and may not incorporate all the final details of the system such as pier depths or sizes, structural details, conductor sizes and conductor lengths. However, the 30% design will present a preliminary array layout which is based on real survey data, where the major equipment will be located, and what the major site civil, structural and electrical impacts will be. The drawings are created and reviewed by Blue Oak Energy’s engineers and managers. Once satisfied with internal reviews per our Quality Assurance and Quality Control standards, the drawings are then reviewed and approved by the client and any initial permit governmental agencies involved.
Next, in line is the 60 percent design stage. At this level, the detailed design of the photovoltaic (PV) project is in full production. The structural member sizes, foundations, attachments, array layout, wire sizes, conduit routes, utility company requirements and major details are specified and illustrated. Detailed drawings and specific construction methods, sometimes drawn as three-dimensional (3-D) models, are created in this stage. Other utilities, such as gas mains, water lines, easements and other obstructions are shown the plans. Construction logistics are considered, such as where the equipment staging area will be located and where materials will be distributed to the site. Anything that impacts the construction site is considered. At this point, an internal review is completed by Blue Oak Energy’s Engineering Manager and Professional Engineer assigned to the project. Again, once satisfied with internal reviews, the drawings are then reviewed and approved by the client and any initial permit governmental agencies involved.
By the 90 percent approval stage, all product details are completed, fine adjustments and value engineering is finalized. Any remaining customer feedback is incorporated into the engineering and construction documents. Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) team checks the plans to make sure the project is designed to exceed expectations and requirements. The 90% drawing package is also the permit set; as such the drawings are submitted to the government agencies for plan check. The agency will issue comments on the drawings.
Once we adequately address the agency’s comments, negotiate and pay the required fees, the permit is issued. The final approved drawings become the 100% design, Issued for Construction (IFC) documents.
As Blue Oak Energy’s vice-president of business development, Danny Lee, explains, commercial and utility solar electric systems construction often involves several stake-holders, including a client such as a general contractor or an equipment manufacturer, a financing entity, a host site owner, an energy off-taker, or an independent or owner’s engineer.
“You don’t want to be 60 percent or 90 percent done with the engineering plans and have the project seriously altered or eliminated because specific details were not considered early on,” said Lee. “That’s why we get every project and customer involved with the very rigorous and repeatable phased approval process.”
By using a 30, 60 and 90 percent phased approval process, Blue Oak Energy works closely with the project team to better address all concerns related to the project, plus, by performing this process in steps, the client benefits from the deliberate decisions which were made during the incremental design journey. “The last thing we want is for the customer to be forced through a dizzying review process,” said Lee. “We want to make the review process an enriching, controlled experience by setting the foundational decisions at 30% design drawings, building the framework at 60% construction drawings and then finish the detailing at 90% permit drawings.”
Once the commercial or utility scale solar electric system is installed and operational, Blue Oak Energy provides an optional service to provide construction Record Drawings which document the actual built conditions as represented by the installing contractor. Often the customer will require Blue Oak Energy to inspect the system to document the actual built conditions as an independent entity from the contractor. When we produce the actual built conditions documents from our own inspection, these drawings are called “As-Built” documents reflecting the actual conditions of the project per Blue Oak Energy’s self-witnessed, independent and professional judgement.