As the saying goes, “If you’ve seen one microgrid, you’ve seen one microgrid.” The misconception that microgrids, or onsite energy systems, are easily replicable combined with pressure from markets and consumers to be more green has lead numerous businesses to set time-stamped sustainability or carbon reduction goals, often without knowing whether they can be executed on time. And as additional organizational benefits of onsite energy are acknowledged, businesses are more incentivized than ever to get green as quickly as possible.
But are the dates set by these organizations arbitrary or unrealistic? If your organization has set a goal and put you in charge of achieving it, how can you meet the deadline?
Assess Before Setting a Goal
While we admire the ambition of headlines like “70% Carbon Reduction by 2025,” it’s important first to have a realistic view of how quickly onsite energy initiatives can be planned and executed. When the goal is publicized without input on timeline from the team responsible for achieving it, it can often be a mad scramble to the finish line with increased costs along the way. The ideal situation is to have a plan in place first and then set the initiative completion date. But ideal and real world don’t often align, so we’ve written this guide to help those who are now on the hook for using onsite energy to meet an aggressive energy goal with a deadline looming.
Methods to Speed Up Onsite Energy Implementation
While it’s a bit of a stretch to say that no two onsite energy systems are alike, a big part of the value proposition of onsite energy is that it can be (and most often is) customized and fit-to-purpose. Because customization is so common in onsite energy, the question of how long it will take to have a system up and running is like the question, “How long is a piece of string?”
Fortunately, there are many energy loads out there that are similar enough that a plug-and-play, “productized” onsite energy system will do the job well enough that little to no customization is required. There are a number of companies that have focused on this type of productized system. Bloom Energy (fuel-cell based) and Enchanted Rock (natural gas generator based) are two of the better-known companies in this space.
These rapid deployment systems can be installed very quickly; in the past year, Microgrid Knowledge reported that Bloom Energy deployed two of their resiliency microgrids at hospitals in California in under three days per site. Of course, this does not count the time required for permitting and interconnection agreements, which can take several months or more on their own, just to get permission to build the project. It’s even possible that some of those permits and agreements were fast-tracked due to the emergent nature of the onsite energy need. Still, this illustrates a decreased timeline that is possible.
Expectations for Onsite Energy Timelines
Plug-and-play onsite energy systems are simple and quick, but also on the smaller end of the scale and are often not the optimal least-cost, best-fit solution. For larger, more complex systems that are customized to precisely serve a specific load, the timeline from concept to operations is on the shortest end around 6 months, but more often 12 to 24 months. For the largest systems, it can be three or more years.
These longer timeframes are typical for industrial campuses, remote mine sites, or other large, challenging projects. For a typical mid-sized commercial-industrial use case, from concept to operation is usually in the range of 12 to 24 months. But with the latest advanced approaches to system design and development, these timeframes can be compressed significantly.
Other Factors That Lengthen Timelines
There are additional factors that can make the onsite energy process take longer:
Which financing option you choose – insight here?
Consultants often work with a limited supplier/vendor list and if their recommendations aren’t available, there’s nothing to do but wait or try to vet other partners on your own. An alternative would be to submit an RFP, knowing that only companies that can meet that timeline will submit proposals. But where and how do you post your RFP to get as many qualified eyes on it? The VECKTA marketplace
Reduce Deployment Timeline with Onsite Energy Tech Platform & Marketplace
Reducing time to decision points and soft costs on the front end of the project lifecycle are two of the main value propositions of VECKTA. What business as usual does in three to six months costing tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, VECKTA can accomplish in a week at a tenth of the cost. We do this by automating parts of the process and using the world’s most advanced onsite energy system optimization software, XENDEE.
Soft costs in onsite energy projects typically range from 30% to as much as 70% of total project costs. Using the VECKTA toolkit and marketplace to reduce these costs, and the time required for these sizing and conceptual design steps, can save up to 90% versus business as usual. VECKTA is also proven to improve the fit of the final system and the lifetime project benefits and economics.
Bottom line: designing and building onsite energy systems can be complex, time-consuming, and costly. Trying to reduce one challenge – like timeline – often leads to an increase in other challenges – like costs. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The key to maximizing project benefits and minimizing costs and headaches is to bring together the right tools and the right experts. Luckily, you can access both on VECKTA.
Written By Tristan Jackson