In-House versus Outsourced Engineering Services: Page 5 of 7
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Principal and Founder
Mayfield Renewables (mayfield.energy) is a small design firm based in Corvalis, Oregon, with five full-time and three part-time staff. Founded in 2007 as Renewable Energy Associates, the company offers design services for PV systems ranging in scale from residential to large commercial and small utility applications. The majority of its projects are located in the Western half of the US, primarily on the West Coast and in Hawaii. In 2017, the company worked on more than 200 residential and 150 commercial PV systems.
SP: What types of professional services does Mayfield Renewables provide, and who are your typical customers?
RM: Our firm offers services that include project feasibility studies, utility interconnection applications, preliminary system design, and complete plan sets for permitting and construction. For large projects that require it, we manage requests for information and construction administration tasks, such as verifying and approving system components. We also offer consulting services for manufacturers that need technical assistance when bringing new products to market or supporting their customers. On the design side, we work closely with engineering firms that are able to oversee our work and perform their own designs as required to provide clients with engineered stamped drawings.
Traditional solar companies make up a majority of our client base. Over the last 2 or 3 years, we have seen an increase in the number of electrical contractors approaching us for PV system design assistance. These companies have extensive knowledge in the electrical contracting world but sometimes no solar experience at all. For these clients, our knowledge and expertise in PV can help them avoid mistakes and problems that they would not have foreseen. In these cases, a fair amount of education goes into the first few deliverables until they get the hang of the process.
SP: Based on your interactions with solar company clients, what are the benefits of outsourcing design or engineering services?
RM: Many of our clients are contractors who don’t have the time or resources to build an in-house team to create drawing packages. This type of customer often has a relatively small staff and is focused on installations. By having our team help them with the drawing sets, these contractors can focus on the other aspects of making their company successful, such as sales and installation. We have worked with a lot of different jurisdictions, and the knowledge we have gained in the process helps these companies streamline their permit approval process.
We also work with many companies, including established solar contractors, that have the ability to generate designs and drawing packages in-house but need help managing an overwhelming workload. Some of these companies hire us to manage short-term overflows. A few companies use us to provide design services on an ongoing basis, because the process works so well for them. The ability to regularly hand off projects helps maintain throughput quality by keeping their internal teams from getting overloaded. Companies that establish long-term relationships with us tend to derive the most value, as the first job or two require extra work from both parties to smooth out processes.
SP: What kind of work best suits a PV design company as opposed to an engineering services provider?
RM: Residential projects generally do not need an engineering stamp. But some jurisdictions have very prescriptive permit plan set requirements. PV design companies specialize in providing residential permit packages that meet these types of AHJ requirements. A lot of clients work with us because of our direct experience and expertise in the PV field. Engineering firms have even hired us because they recognized their need for specialized help with PV system design and specification. We also have established relationships with engineering firms across multiple disciplines that can directly oversee our work and create their own engineered designs and documents as required by individual AHJs. This relationship can work well for PV contractors who do not want to manage multiple providers to procure fully engineered deliverables.
SP: Does Mayfield Renewables help customers with design optimization activities?
RM: Yes, we do. If customers engage us during the initial project kickoff, we can help them optimize designs by making equipment or layout recommendations. The company’s internal construction practices have a lot to do with this process. For example, does the company have a prescribed maximum voltage drop percentage? Is that number different on the dc and ac side of the inverter? Does the company have a maximum conductor size it will use before moving to parallel sets of conductors? Knowing these different criteria and correctly applying them helps save time and resources across the whole project.
As the design progresses, we often see a way that the contractor may be able to save field time. We then relay that information to the project managers to see if that solution makes sense for the installation crew. Value engineering can look great on paper, but if it is impractical in the field or creates more problems than it solves, it isn’t worth it. That’s why we include the project managers in these decisions.