Why Design-Build is the New EPC for Solar Projects
Sharon Lee • Published February 20, 2023 • Updated on February 20, 2023 • [rt_reading_time postfix=”minute”] read
Sharon Lee • Published February 20, 2023 • Updated on February 20, 2023 • [rt_reading_time postfix=”minute”] read
There are several ways that businesses can approach their solar construction projects. The design-build approach is the most efficient project delivery method offered by innovative commercial solar providers. It takes the best of the turnkey EPC approach and enhances it with customization aspects of design-build.
Design-build projects are streamlined yet flexible, making this the most viable delivery method for business owners who want the benefits of solar, but not the hassles of managing the design and construction process themselves.
Here’s how it works.
When you work with a design-build team, you enter into an agreement with a single company that’s in charge of all aspects of your solar project, from designing and engineering to procuring and installing the system.
The key differentiator between design-build and other construction methods is that design-build is more adaptable to your specific situation. It’s flexible in that it allows you to select which services you want to buy and when you want to buy them. You don’t have to bite off the whole apple at one time.
This allows solar providers like Velo Solar to customize their products and services to better meet your needs.
There are a number of steps involved in the design and construction process for a commercial solar system. Here are the most common:
Let’s take a brief look at the other construction methods available to solar customers so that you can really see why the design-build approach is superior.
There are two primary alternatives to the design-build method: EPC and design-bid-build.
EPC stands for Engineering Procurement and Construction, and this has been the prevailing business model for the commercial solar energy industry over the last decade.
The EPC approach makes solar easy for you as the customer because it’s turnkey. You hire a single company to manage the entire solar installation process. That company is fully responsible for everything from the design and engineering to procuring the elements needed to build that system, and then constructing the solar system at your location.
If you have a question or there’s an issue while your solar PV plant is being installed, you know immediately who to call because you have a single point of contact – and it’s their responsibility to resolve the issue, not yours.
Sounds a lot like how we described design-build earlier, right?
It’s true that the design-build approach has its roots in EPC project delivery methods; both are turnkey solutions with a single point of contact. But there is a major difference.
The downside to EPC is that it’s not very flexible.
EPC solar companies usually offer every customer the same set of services. That package typically includes a simple design and the construction of your solar system – and if you sign on with that company, you can’t get just a piece of the package, you have to take it all.
If you’re not ready to go all-in with solar, this one-size-fits-all project delivery method may not be a great fit for you.
If you opt for the design-bid-build approach, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of extra time in your schedule. This delivery method allows you to buy the services you want when you want them, but there’s a significant downside – you essentially become your own general contractor.
That means you have to find a company to do the site survey and one to design your solar system. Then you have to hire a vendor to supply the solar panels, the battery storage system, and every wire, rack mount, and inverter required to build out the project.
Then, you have to hire yet another vendor to provide the actual construction services for your solar plant.
You select the vendors, you manage their work, and you’re the one who has to solve any problems that may arise during the life of the construction project. More often than not, that will include managing finger pointing and the blame game played amongst your vendors if something goes wrong. In the end, if the completed system doesn’t completely meet your needs it’s your fault.
While the design-bid-build approach does offer more flexibility than the EPC project delivery method, it’s an incredibly time-consuming way to go about building out your solar plant (or anything else for that matter).
There’s also very little collaboration between your vendors, so you could wind up with a solar system that doesn’t fully meet your needs.
Fortunately, the design-build method takes the best of EPC and design-bid-build to create a turnkey solution that’s flexible and customizable to meet your company’s specific needs.
Design-build uses the same basic framework as the EPC model. You have one contract with a single company that’s in charge of the engineering, procurement, and construction of your solar project. You don’t have to manage separate contracts for each provider; it’s 100% turnkey so you’ll always know exactly who to call with your questions or concerns.
But here’s where design-build shines: it eliminates the rigidity of the EPC process by integrating the flexibility and customization inherent with the traditional design-bid-build method. It’s EPC 2.0!
Put more plainly, with design-build, you work with a single provider, but you can buy the services you want based on your timeline and needs.
Design-build is an approach to commercial solar that meets you where you are today and allows you to plan for the future. This is why it’s the superior approach to commercial solar project installations.
As you can imagine, design-build is more of a long term partnership between the provider and the customer. Design-build solar companies partner with you wherever you are on the path to solar energy integration.
Whether you need the whole package today or just want to take the first step now and the second in six months, the design-build method can provide the services you need when you need them:
This flexibility allows a provider to analyze, engineer, design, install, and maintain a solar system that perfectly fits your needs and your timeline.
One of the hallmarks of this type of solar provider is that they have entire design-build teams on staff, including engineering, design, construction, software, energy storage and solar system optimization experts.
Because the members of your solar design-build team are collaborating with each other, you can be sure you’ll get unified project recommendations. Your solar system is just that – it’s a system. That means that if one thing changes, the rest of the system could be impacted.
Let’s say, for example, the engineer wants to adjust the placement of the solar panels to mitigate a shading issue. The revised placement could impact the way the panels are connected or strung together, the number of panels needed, or even the type of panel used in the array. Before recommendations are presented to you, the engineer will work with the rest of the design-build team to ensure no other areas of the project are impacted – and rectify any potential problems before they become an issue.
This provides one unified flow to the entire solar project. Can you imagine the amount of work and coordination it would take for you to achieve this level of collaboration and unity with the design-bid-build project delivery method?
Most business owners or facility managers don’t have enough hours in their workday to take on the burden of all that back-and-forth.
This collaborative, unified approach is especially crucial for solar projects taking full advantage of the flexibility inherent in the design-build method. Even if there’s six months between the conclusion of the design process and the time you decide to pull the trigger on construction, your design-build team will have everything they need to ensure continuity and the integrity of your solar system.
Because the entire project is being managed by a single team, project management for design-build solar installations is simplified. The inherent collaboration also eliminates finger pointing between vendors should something go wrong.
With design-build, everyone is on the same team, working towards the same goal.
Plus, as technologies evolve and solar systems become more complex and powerful, it will be even more crucial that your solar provider be experienced with collaborative problem solving.
All of the inherent collaboration and communication found with design-build projects saves you time and money. Your design-build partner will take on most of the time-consuming work associated with the installation of a solar project including coordination and paperwork.
The design-build delivery method can also keep project costs under control. Working with a single provider is often less expensive than sourcing each aspect of the construction project from a different vendor. A design-build provider can also help you navigate your solar financing options, and maximize any tax breaks or net metering options available to your business.
Once you’ve selected your design-build solar provider, here’s what you can expect. Keep in mind that many of these phases overlap, which means that while you have the flexibility to go at your own pace, the design-build method has the potential to deliver a solar system faster than other construction methods.
The entire process is more efficient and communication is easier – and that allows you to move through each phase more quickly.
The first thing your design-build team will want to do is get to know your business and understand its energy needs. This includes learning about your timeline, budget, current and projected electricity usage, your sustainability goals, and more. This phase may also include a feasibility study, a site survey, and other project planning tasks.
Once the team understands your goals, you’ll move into the design phase. As you might expect, your design-build project team will create the architectural design of your solar array during this stage. Working together, the team will optimize the system output and costs based on the information uncovered in the design phase.
Project schedules are typically set at this point, and your project team will secure any necessary permits and permissions from the local authorities and your electric utility.
Upon the approval of the system by the project owner (you), the local governing authority, and the utility, the construction of your solar project can commence. Since your design-build team includes procurement and construction experts who are already intimately familiar with your solar project, this phase is typically smoother than in other project delivery methods.
After construction is complete, your design-build team will provide you with any necessary training. Alternatively, you may avail yourself of your partner’s operations and maintenance services. Reputable solar providers can monitor and provide regular maintenance to ensure your solar system continues to deliver on its clean energy promises.
In this article, we’ve outlined a number of reasons why we believe the design-build approach is the best option for solar customers. That’s why it’s the delivery method of choice for Velo Solar – all our commercial solar projects are completed using this mindset.
We love how smoothly the entire process flows and all the flexibility it provides to our commercial solar customers.
Solar is a long-term investment, with most plants lasting thirty years or more. At Velo Solar, we want to ensure that every solar system we design and build works smoothly for decades to come.
If you’re looking to save time, money, and integrate solar into your energy mix on your own terms, design-build is for you.