The use of photovoltaic panels in construction is rapidly growing all around the world. This paper summarizes the findings of a student-based project in Belize that was installed December 2016. The San Pedro Roman Catholic Primary School is the largest school on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize with over 700 students in 22 classrooms ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade.
Although the school has power supplied from the local electrical utility, power, outages occur frequently and the cost of electricity is considerable. The project had several issues related to preparing the design, acquiring the materials and equipment, and developing schedule, shipping, and work planning.
In this paper, I will cover specific topics of the project, including estimation, communications, and installation. I will discuss some of the problems I encountered that included a lack of communication, accessibility to the construction site, site layout, as well as the solutions I took to mitigate each problem. Finally, I will discuss my findings and the lessons I learned while working on this project.
There are multiple contributing key factors that led to this project’s completion. Some of these factors included huge lead times that greatly pushed-back the schedule. Because of these factors the quality of installation became at-risk. Key factors determined whether the project would be completed on time, under budget, and installed completely. The key factors I will focus on in this project will be communication, estimation, and installation. These factors influenced the project.
To install a complete system that satisfies the school’s needs, proper communication between the locals on the island and myself. Delayed communication between the island and myself sometimes stalled for weeks, leaving unanswered questions open for long periods of time.
To make crucial decisions, that should have been confirmed with the local electrician, Eddie Halliday, I had to make educated guesses on certain conditions of the site, how long materials would get through customs, and the best way to run conduit. This led to delays on scope of work for the installation and delayed shipping.
Scope of work constantly fluctuated between the preconstruction trip to the day before installation. Part of the reason would refer to communication. Questions about the project were not getting answered fast enough. The assumptions I had to make changed the scope of work frequently and often.
Some of the questions that I needed to answer that changed the scope of work includes how much power the administration building (To whom I are supplying power to), use on a monthly basis, where to mount 14 photovoltaic panels without risking security and safety, and what is the need for power at night? Using educated assumptions lead to a faulty scope of work that changed drastically during the first few days on site.
A big key factor that was addressed early in the project was who would install the entire system. Understanding all the components that goes into a photovoltaic system affected both the estimation and communication of the project.
As a student team, learning how electricity works, and how the panels connect had a major learning curve to understand. Learning about the school’s power supply was a big factor in determining how many panels to install, if battery backup was required, and what kind of wire to run to the subpanel.
The biggest drawback with a construction project in another country is the amount of communication from parties both in the USA, and in Belize, to complete a successful project. Overseeing communication means a lot of people are looking to you to answer questions by from the opposite party. Because there was a finite amount of time to prepare for installation, getting questions answered quickly from the island was vital. Sometimes it would take a couple of weeks to get a response from local sources.
Not only did I have to see over the entirety of estimation, but understanding how to install the system was also required on this project. Because the materials did not arrive on site until day three of installation, there was a lot of down time. Instead of sitting around for two days and going site-seeing, the free time was spent pre-planning our methods of construction. Routes for conduit were pre-dug in the sand that lead to the electrical room where we were to install the sub panel. The sub panel, ATS, Inverter, and sub panel locations were laid out on paper.
This project became much more than just a student based photovoltaic project or my senior project. Working with professionals in the United States and out has taught me how to learn and understand how the construction industry works. The new knowledge I have learned prepared me for working in the real world.
Understanding your customer’s needs, and how they operate became the biggest lessoned learned. Not only did I have to adapt my communications to suit my customer, constantly following up and keeping RCE in the loop persistently meant a more completed project.By estimating this project, I learned that there are a lot of small components that need to be factored into any project. Every piece needs to be looked over, and made sure that it is compatible with a complete system.
Industry leaders can give you a better understanding of what components you need to build a system. As a project manager, I need to convey my customer’s needs with my vendors to produce a correct and complete project. Understanding that an inverter without battery backup is needed for the system became a huge problem. Not only did the complete system not get installed when I went to Belize, ordering the correct whips and batteries for the inverter meant another couple of months of coordination and figuring out who and how to pay for the extra materials. Overall, this project has taught me a lot of important lessons in construction. These lessons and skills will follow me throughout both my professional life and my personal life.
Source: California Polytechnic State University
Author: Joe Gugale