In-House versus Outsourced Engineering Services: Page 6 of 7
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Co-Founder and Managing Partner
ReVision Energy (revisionenergy.com) is a full-service solar company serving both residential and commercial customers in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The company has designed and installed more than 7,000 solar energy systems over the past 10 years. Its in-house engineering team includes four licensed professional engineers, supported by four system designers.
SP: Has ReVision Energy always offered in-house engineering services or did you develop these capabilities over time?
FM: We have always performed most engineering services in-house. As our business grew, we started using outside engineering services for most of the structural engineering work. We also outsource land surveying and civil engineering work for large commercial projects where those services are required. But we still do all the overall design, system modeling, drafting and electrical engineering work in-house. All of our commercial projects require a PE-stamped electrical one-line diagram for utility interconnection. In addition, roughly 50% of our total projects, both residential and commercial, require a structural PE to sign off when the solar system is mounted on an existing structure.
SP: Does having in-house engineering staff provide your company with a competitive advantage in the market?
FM: Our strongest value proposition is to be able to offer robust cost-effective systems through the design-build model. Having an integrated engineering and estimating team has allowed us to design these systems while providing the best value to our clients. Having design and engineering staff is a critical part of serving our customers effectively. It allows us to have our design team work tightly with the project development and sales team to iterate rapidly to identify the projects that best meet the needs of our clients. This is particularly important in the small commercial and industrial market, where project development budgets won’t support an inefficient or cumbersome process. Project optimization is a highly project-specific exercise and requires not only a solid understanding of the client’s specific goals, but also an understanding of utility tariffs, incentive programs and net metering rules, as well as local permitting issues. We find that our in-house engineering team is uniquely equipped to solve this multidimensional optimization question on behalf of our customers.
SP: Does strategic outsourcing benefit your business in any way?
FM: Structural reviews are sometimes required to add rooftop solar to existing buildings. We have found that our outside structural engineering partners perform this review quickly and cost-effectively across our whole geographic territory, in a way that we’d struggle to do in-house. Hiring out the structural engineering scope is a pretty straightforward delineation of responsibility and has proven effective for us to date. When developing large ground-mounted projects or those projects involving brownfield sites, some civil or environmental engineering scope often falls outside our core in-house competency. We typically work with outside engineering partners in those cases. This work can include survey work, storm-water runoff plans, road building and erosion control, as well as other specific requirements related to local, state and environmental permitting. We are lucky to have an excellent collaborative relationship with many engineering firms in our area. We often find that partnering with a firm that has an existing relationship with the client or knowledge of a site can be an efficient and cost-effective way to work.
SP: Do you hold engineering licenses in more than one state? What criteria do you consider when deciding whether to add another state license?
FM: We carry in-house licenses for both engineering and installation in our core geographic service territories. Adding a license for a new state can be a bit tedious but is not all that expensive. If we’re planning to do a significant volume of work in a new territory, it usually makes sense to go through the effort to get a license through reciprocity or comity. However, when we take on work that falls outside our core service territory, we typically rely on a third party for that licensure. In those cases, we still try to maintain a significant portion of the design process to capture the benefits of doing this work in-house. But we partner with a third party to review the work thoroughly and provide the needed certifications for the particular jurisdiction.