By Dr. René Morkos, CEO, ALICE Technologies
Over the past year, the U.S. solar industry has experienced significant delays to construction efforts, inhibiting the industry’s ability to meet current goals for adoption of renewable and sustainable energies. Lingering effects of pandemic-related disruptions, new tariffs on products imported from Asia and laws addressing forced-labor concerns in China’s Xingjiang region have been wreaking havoc on the industry’s ability to execute solar energy projects according to plan.
At the same time, the cost of construction delays has risen dramatically, with dispute costs for delayed projects in 2021 averaging an astounding $54.26 million per project. On large-scale solar and photovoltaic (PV) projects, data collected between January and June of 2022 demonstrated an average delay in delivery of 4.4GW per month — nearly double the impact observed in 2021.
The ability to adapt in a timely manner to site changes and schedule disruptions can make or break any project and with such high stakes, managing risk exposure for expensive solar projects is critical to maintaining profitability.
Challenges are inevitable. Delays and damages aren’t.
While challenges will inevitably arise during the construction of any major project, a comprehensive recovery plan can help large-scale solar (and other renewable energy) projects keep those challenges from turning into delays and preventing accumulation of extra costs and damages.
When things go sideways, an effective project recovery plan can help solar projects maintain momentum and keep construction on track. Comprehensive project recovery planning examines the big picture, identifying potential challenges and delays and prioritizing those most likely to impact the project budget and timeline. By proactively accounting for and troubleshooting potential issues and risks, costly delays to construction are avoided, eliminating additional damage to profitability.
Tips for using a Solar Project Recovery Plan
Step 1: Assess potential challenges
A successful project recovery plan demands a thorough survey of factors that might set off spiraling delays. Solar projects are complex builds that can be affected by a variety of circumstances and site-specific conditions.
From budget restrictions to shifting ground conditions, extreme weather damage to labor shortages, equipment scarcity to breakdowns in the material supply chain; anticipating and identifying potential glitches during pre-construction can help stakeholders strategize mitigation and identify workarounds for issues that may occur in future.
Step 2: Prioritize and categorize
Identified challenges should be categorized and prioritized by both likelihood of occurrence and potential impact to the project. The events or issues most likely to cause delays to construction of a large-scale solar project are different from those of any other project and often include environmental protests, extreme weather, equipment import and customs delays and aesthetic concerns. Issues like these can often drag on without resolution.
Challenges most likely to trigger interdependency issues or disrupt project timelines should be ranked accordingly, as they are most likely to result in spiraling costs or damages. By proactively prioritizing potentially critical issues, a solar project recovery plan helps stakeholders design more effective recovery scenarios.
Step 3: Use generative scheduling
The Critical Path Method’s rigid sequencing means even simple changes to the construction timeline often require a project-wide reconfiguration — a costly and time-consuming process. When things go awry, CPM tools are limited in flexibility and usefulness. When it comes to solar project recovery, dynamic generative scheduling is a major asset and offers significant time and cost savings when compared to CPM. It can help map alternative pathways for project completion and dynamically create iterative scheduling options as site and project conditions change.
It is possible to simultaneously lay the groundwork for successful interconnection and completion and potentially streamline future solar project recovery by choosing the right tools and software from the beginning. Using ALICE Technologies’ AI for generative construction scheduling reduces manual entry, improves insight into projects and offers greater accuracy and adaptability — all key to meeting changing conditions effectively and reducing costs.
Step 4: Tend to your timeline
Environmental factors, interconnection stagnancy, permitting delays and challenges posed by supply and transmission congestion are common in construction of large-scale solar projects. Throw in a few complex permitting and operating requirements (which can vary drastically, due to local regulation), intense environmental and aesthetic analysis, the installation and oversight of specialized equipment and the unique governmental and regulatory considerations associated with construction of all large-scale utility infrastructures and most recognize the need for proactive attention to the project timeline.
Even with detailed planning and prep, nearly 20% of planned PV and solar power utility projects were delayed in 2022 and slight deviations from the project timeline can often result in continued disruption. Close attention is key to anticipating and quickly resolving issues that might have cascading effects. Tracking timely completion of milestones (and realigning the project schedule if and when a task slips) improves the effectiveness of your project recovery plan.
Step 5: Prepare for the unknown
Political actions, labor shortages, natural catastrophes, supply chain issues and regulatory measures can all wreak havoc on the unprepared. Adopting new technologies can help the solar industry anticipate the unexpected and prepare for the unknown. AI-driven tools for construction project optimization can be leveraged by those in the solar industry to improve adaptability in unpredictable circumstances. Real-time, lightning-speed analysis of evolving conditions can help model innovative pathways for maintaining project progression.
The Solar Project Recovery Plan: Adapt and take action
Historically, the high cost of constructing solar energy systems and farms has been prohibitive, curtailing its adoption as a sustainable source of renewable energy. Solar energy construction and interconnection are exceedingly vulnerable to delay, but when a solar build goes sideways, a project recovery plan can identify options for getting construction back on track.
Potential delay and damages loom over construction of solar energy farms and utility interconnection projects. Swift action is the only way to get your project back on track. With a well-informed project recovery plan and the necessary tools, the complexities affecting profitability can be managed more quickly and efficiently, reducing timeline delays and minimizing project costs. Redeployment of project resources, labor or equipment reallocation and task resequencing can all help maintain project progression.
When it comes to solar project recovery, timing is everything. Why not make the most of it?
Dr. René Morkos is an adjunct professor at Stanford University and CEO of ALICE Technologies. Inventor of the world’s first Generative Construction Simulator and Optimizer, Morkos obtained his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence for construction as a Charles H. Leavell Fellow at Stanford University, where he currently teaches in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department. He is a second-generation civil engineer, with over 23 years of experience in construction. He has worked as a project manager on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, automation of a $350 million gas refinery expansion in Abu Dhabi, construction of an underwater pipeline, implementation of ERP systems and various Virtual Design and Construction projects. Morkos founded ALICE technologies in 2015; their mission is to improve standards of living, by reducing the cost of construction and infrastructure development by at least 25% worldwide. Morkos is a researcher and adventurer, exploring the theoretical boundaries of construction management and the evolution of future industries for global betterment.
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