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A successful energy study starts with defining the project scope

Tips for achieving a scope that aligns with overarching goals, stays within budget, and achieves desired outcomes

January 4, 2024  By Dr. Michael Wrinch

January 4, 2024 – Energy studies can vary significantly, depending on the facility and the client’s objectives, which is why defining a clear scope of work is crucial for success. When the scope is ill-defined, the result is typically a project that exceeds its budget or fails to meet its objectives… plus an unsatisfied client.

The energy study scope should be realistic and manageable while considering available resources and the complexity of the facility.

To help you navigate the project adeptly and meet the client’s needs and budget without compromising quality, follow these crucial steps for defining, managing, and controlling the scope of work throughout your energy project.

1. Identify and consult stakeholders

Before doing anything else, start by listing the key stakeholders who will be involved and/or engaged over the course of your energy study. Create a RACI table from that list, designating the roles accordingly:

Responsible: The engineer or technical team members who are doing the actual work.
Accountable: The project manager or sponsor who is ultimately accountable for its success.
Consulted: Stakeholders such as the funders, senior engineers, specialists or consultants who provide expert advice. (N.B.: the funder is not always the sponsor or project owner. It could be a government agency, for example, that wishes to verify the work has been completed per the requirements of a specific grant.)
Informed: The project owner, higher management (such as the CFO or COO).

Each stakeholder group member will possess a different perspective on the project.

Your task is to form a scope that aligns with the overarching goal, stays within budget, and achieves the stakeholders’ desired outcomes.

It is important to periodically review the RACI table, especially after each major milestone or phase, change in scope, or personnel.

2. Establish clear objectives

Identify the primary goals of the energy study. This can include identifying areas for energy savings, reducing carbon footprint, conservation, compliance with regulations, improving energy efficiency or adding renewable energy assets. Setting clear, measurable objectives helps to both focus the study and measure its success.

3. Set boundaries for the study

Crucial to the study is the establishment of boundary conditions for both physical aspects and operations. For example, when a regulatory change prohibits the use of certain machines (e.g. coolants), a study may be required to assess efficiency versus cost versus incentives, specifically for cooling purposes in a major factory asset. It is important to decide whether the study will cover the entire facility or concentrate on specific areas, processes, or systems. This decision should align with the objectives and availability of resources.

For example, you have been tasked with assessing the viability of a rooftop solar array to produce electricity, dampen peak demand, etc., then someone suggests the possibility of replacing the existing rooftop units with new ones. It may not be a bad idea, but it is also indicative of scope creep, as it falls outside the boundary of the current study.

4. Create a risk register

Among your initial tasks will be the identification of any risks or constraints that could impact the study, such as operational disruptions, safety concerns, or outright technological limitations. Once identified, these risks need to be addressed through mitigation or avoidance, or even a presentation to stakeholders (which helps them understand the risks, and could help you develop alternate solutions).

Have discussions with your RACI stakeholders about the study’s limitations and the impact of those limitations. In some cases, mutually agreed-upon, alternative approaches will achieve the same outcomes.

When the whole team has buy-in regarding the risks and solutions involved, you will be able to proceed with confidence.

5. Identify data gaps and associated collection costs

Without access to crucial data that’s needed for completing key objectives, the project’s scope is at risk of becoming inflated.

Assess the availability of data (are there any critical gaps?) and consider whether published assumptions, such as mathematical performance calculations, manufacturer claims for energy efficiency, or published technical papers can be made to improve the study’s validity. When special measurement equipment is necessary for gathering critical data, make sure you fully understand the equipment’s requirements i.e. 6- to 12-month monitoring period.

Evaluate utility bills and, based on project parameters, determine the necessary frequency for energy data collection (hourly or monthly), and gather equipment specifications. Understanding the gaps in data early in your study supports planning for data collection efforts later, if required. In some cases, published assumptions may suffice for demonstrating improved efficiency benefits.

6. Understand the facility’s operations

When providing a quote and initiating the project, ensure you have a thorough understanding of the facility’s operations. This includes the location, processes, equipment, fuel mix, and energy consumption patterns. Identify the equipment and/or systems that consume the most energy. Determine whether existing energy management practices are in place.

7. Considerations for regulatory compliance

Investigate and identify any local, regional, or industry-specific regulations to which your project must adhere (as with the coolant example above).

Grandfathered machinery, if modified in any capacity, may require full replacement. This will almost certainly impact the study’s scope and methodology.

8. Document your scope; review with RACI

Only now—after you have identified the stakeholders, established clear objectives, identified risks and any gaps in data, investigated pertinent rules and regs—can you create a proper scope document!

While outlining the key study elements, the document should be clear and easy to understand. There is no point in creating a document that bogs everyone down with excessive detail; the goal is to have a document that everyone can comprehend and begin the project.

The scope document is to be reviewed for alignment and commitment by key stakeholders, then signed-off by the relevant parties and funder(s).

Ready for action!

As you can see, a lot of work goes into creating a well-defined scope, yet it is the foundation upon which a successful energy study is built, leading to actionable insights and tangible improvements in energy efficiency.

Dr. Michael Wrinch is the founder of Hedgehog Technologies, an electro-mechanical engineering firm with over 20 years of operations. Hedgehog is a team of diverse engineers that manage innovative projects across the world, including designing military-grade submarines, building state-of-the-art thrill rides, and operating the first smart microgrid in Canada. Before founding Hedgehog, Wrinch served as a forest firefighter, fighting fires across all of Canada.

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