Nzangi Muimi

5 Applications of Value Engineering in a Solar Power Plant Project

Value engineering was discussed in our previous article as an exercise that seeks to reduce the cost of a proposed project without affecting the quality and functionality of the development. A solar power project can immensely benefit from this exercise. Solar power generating plants aim to provide long-term sustainability in power generation and supply. Therefore, improving the power generation output while keeping the lifetime costs of developing and operating the solar power plant low is the ultimate goal. This can be possible by applying value engineering in all phases of the project from conception to operations.

A solar power plant employs solar technologies that convert sunlight into electrical energy, either through photovoltaic panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. See how solar works in this post by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the USA. In areas where there is enough exposure to sunlight, solar power can be a reliable source of green energy to power homes, offices and towns.

Value engineering in such projects is an important step in ensuring the best design and power engineering considerations are made before the project gets commissioned. Therefore, value engineering can be applied in a solar power project in the following ways:

1. Design Optimization

This involves creating a holistic design based on the local conditions and projected energy production requirements. Instead of relying heavily on past project documentation to come up with solar designs and panel layouts, the project team seeks to develop a bespoke project that responds to the client’s needs and surrounding site conditions.

The use of standard specifications that typically lead to overbuilding in areas where it is not required and does not adequately address the project’s risks is discouraged. Custom project specifications are developed by the power engineers, especially on the solar power components.

Also, more focus is on eliminating redundant equipment and reducing overspecifications on the equipment to cut down on unnecessary costs. Equally, the developer team is required to settle on a clear project brief as early as possible to make material choice and selection easy. This includes minimising the substitution of materials during the installation and construction phase to eliminate incompatibilities and possible extra costs.

2. Use of Collaborative Information Technologies

The aspect of developing and testing various design iterations requires an environment that is less risky in terms of the associated costs and time. Building information modelling is relied on in the project to develop and test various iterations and design configurations to come up with one that best optimises the site conditions and available resources, for maximum power generation output.

At the very earliest stages of the project development, BIM will help the project team members make decisions faster and experiment on various iterations without having to spend a lot of time and money as it will be based on virtual models. It is important to have a BIM Manager as part of the project team to help in the execution of BIM in a solar power plant project.

3. Site Orientation Optimization

Orientation is a key consideration in a solar power plant as it involves laying out solar panels and modules in an optimal way to maximise their exposure to incident solar radiation from the sun. The design must be created in a way that optimises the site layout for the solar module and tracker orientation to ensure maximum sunlight exposure and saturation. This includes finding ways to maximise the number of panels and modules on the site for maximum energy production.

4. Material and Component Selection

In selecting materials and components for the project (especially the solar power generation items), the site conditions such as slope, humidity, temperatures, sun exposure, cloud cover, wind direction and strength, and rainfall distribution, are recorded/collected and shared with the panel manufacturers. This helps in optimising the panels and modules to decrease the long-term costs associated with wind stow, wind speed, snow loads and corrosion.

This is important for the long-term sustainability of the project by adapting it to the local conditions, which will help in the reduction of cost-in-use associated with requirements for cleaning, mechanical wear and tear, and occasional replacement of parts.

5. Sourcing of Materials and Labour Locally

As part of the project’s sustainability efforts, the participation of the local community is key. Where the community can provide either skilled or unskilled labour, or supply readily available materials, it is encouraged that they be involved in doing so. This minimises energy consumption, especially in the transportation of materials and labour from other sources away from the project site.

Also, the ordering (procurement) of materials is strictly based on accurate material quantity estimates to avoid ordering more than is required leading to wastage. Consequently, reducing material wastage is a key consideration in the solar power project’s value engineering efforts.

The project manager must ensure the “just-in-time” approach to procurement is strictly applied to the procurement and delivery of construction materials, components, labour, plant, and equipment on site. This is aimed at reducing the strain on the need for huge storage space on site, or the disruption of the work programme as a result of delays, which may lead to time losses and money losses (coming from the cost of financing, idle plant, and labour on the site).


Solar power plants are a good source of clean energy. These investments are helping countries in their move towards combating global climate change, ensuring long-term sustainability in their investments, and as a source of clean energy to power their economies. The value engineering exercise can be applied to these solar power plant projects to maximise power generation and output while reducing the cost of developing and operating the power plant and maintaining superior quality.

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