Of Solar Projects and Owner’s Engineers
Often I am asked, “so what do you do after quitting the Navy”. When I tell them that my company consults as Owner’s Engineers for solar projects, the most frequent query is, “whats that?” So today, I am making an attempt to explain in short, what does an owner’s engineer do?
Solar rooftop systems are being promoted by the Govt of India and several incentives are being offered to both residential and commercial users. As a result, many housing societies and commercial establishments have got interested in having these systems installed. The process followed is usually as follows: –
- The person looking for installing the system looks for a vendor who can install the system for him.
- The vendor sends a team who sees the site and advises the client as to what plant size can be installed.
- This assessment by the first available vendor becomes the benchmark for the client and he approaches all other vendors with a requirement to install a plant of this particular capacity.
- Thereafter, various vendors provide quotations.
- The client selects one, usually the cheapest quote, and places the order.
- The selected vendor installs the solar power plant and declares that it is commissioned.
You will ask, “so whats wrong with this process?” Well;
- Firstly the client is usually not knowledgeable about solar systems and hence there is an asymmetry of information between the vendor and the client.
- The first vendor who assess the site gives his assessment based on what is best for him and not for the client. Due to asymmetry of information, the client accepts it as sacrosanct. I have seen vendors use incorrect GHI for the site to push a larger plant than what is actually required, and thus charging more money than what needs to be spent by the client. In effect, a correct customer requirement is not established.
- When the quotations are provided, the client is usually not very knowledgeable about the products available in the industry and their reputation. Also, most of the vendors are distributors/ retailers of certain brands and push those brands only. The client is thus forced to choose from what is on offer rather than what is best for him. Instead, if the client makes a tender document giving the specifications of the equipment that they want installed, then the scenario would be different as the vendors would have to quote for similar equipment.
- The vendors in the present scenario are selected based on who is offering cheapest and not who is offering best value as there is no technical selection before commercial selection because of the information asymmetry of the client. This leads to poor quality stuff being pushed to the client, especially in CAPEX projects.
- There is no technical oversight of the quality of installation done by the vendor as the client does not have the time, inclination or knowledge to do that.
- There is no proper trials and acceptance at the time of commissioning of the plant again due to the asymmetry in knowledge.
So how does an Owner’s Engineer help?
- Well, we do the assessment and give a correct picture of the client requirement and site potential using the correct GHI for the location.
- We do a financial feasibility study and give various options to the client. Thus helping him decide the kind of plant and scheme that is most beneficial to them.
- Based on the customer requirement developed in discussion with the client and keeping his interest as paramount, we help first select the vendors technically and then commercially. This includes assessment of the components being offered by the vendor. Thus, giving maximum value for money to the client.
- In case of RESCO projects we vet the draft contracts to ensure that the interests of the client are taken care of. You would be surprised to know how badly these contracts are loaded in favour of the service provider at the cost of the client.
- We oversee the installation to ensue that best practices are followed, and safety is not compromised.
- We undertake inspection, trials and acceptance of the plant on behalf of the client.
In short, we are on the client’s side and we help them get value for their money.