Time, focus, and expertise in upfront project planning is critical to the success of power projects – experience and technology can help save time and money, says Joseph Mahendran, Energy Operations Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa at global consulting and EPC company, Black & Veatch.
Power development plans throughout the world are getting more complex. Finding the optimum mix between large-scale multi-year base load power projects, short-duration micro-grids other small scale facilities and clean energy objectives is bringing new participants to fast-evolving markets. With an estimated 600 million individuals without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, new critical infrastructure projects will be needed to provide reliable power to expand industrial capacity and address the needs of a fast-growing Africa population.
History shows that power projects, regardless of size or scale, require careful planning to overcome challenges – ranging from a lack of technical expertise to other capital limitations. Successful projects are the result of early and proactive planning, communication, reliable project controls practices, and project execution expertise, regardless of the contracting approach utilized. When deployed consistently, sound project controls can provide technology and economic advantages before, during and long after construction, while also minimizing risk for stakeholders.
Upfront planning leads to smooth project execution
From an engineering perspective, the value of planning – with tight project controls – cannot be overemphasised. Appropriate time and focus spent in upfront planning, irrespective of the scale or technology, lead to better field execution.
Project controls leadership must start on day one, including clearly defined, well managed timelines, key milestones, schedules and costs. Failure to adhere to, and track various critical execution plan elements, creates risks and related events that may lead to project delays, cost overruns, and even outright cancellation. In regions heavily dependent on investment, sound project feasibility and a good understanding of project costs and schedules are critical for securing investment support, based on expected returns. These factors must then be closely managed throughout execution.
Don’t recreate the wheel
With any infrastructure project, stakeholders want to know what resources will be applied to successfully deliver their project on-time and on-budget. But too often the processes critical to success are overlooked or outdated approaches are brought to bear on cutting-edge infrastructure. Leading edge project controls tools and experience can help forecast and measure various project dynamics more effectively. Thus providing a realistic perspective and understanding of how work is moving throughout each phase of delivery in accordance with the established budget and schedule.
First-hand experience is required for project success, particularly where there is a lack of training or familiarity with the work or activities at hand. Direct project controls guidance that includes applied global best practices can help bridge skills and knowledge gaps, as well as provide knowledge transfer training to the local workforce. Seasoned project controls experts can also better identify and mitigate unforeseen engineering, procurement, and construction risks early on, helping to avoid schedule delays and budget overruns. Challenges are assessed, analyses of different options are provided, and the best solutions are then applied to keep projects moving ahead efficiently.
Project controls play an integral role in infrastructure projects, intertwining experience and technology to ensure seamless execution. Experienced project managers know how best to modify plans based on region-specific resources and local execution dynamics.
Increasing data-driven project management
Data analytics is gaining traction for its application in project conceptualisation, design, and field construction. Data-driven intelligence provides a broader view of project challenges that can be averted and solutions to better employ. Data is becoming more and more important for decision-making, and can even assist in areas such as identifying cultural aspects related to productivity challenges.
There is a growing reliance on technology to assist with on-demand planning. As part of the drive towards continuous improvement in project controls, Black & Veatch introduced a cloud-based system called SEKOIA (Spatial Engineering Knowledge Optimisation Immersive Analysis ) powered by its ASSET360TM data analytics platform.. Designed as a central hub for all project management and design-build applications, this system provides real-time views into a project’s status and performance for clients, project teams and management. It also utilises building information modelling and geographic information systems to create past, present and future scenarios. Both the project’s status and performance can be assessed anytime and from different devices, including mobile, to make informed decisions about operations and planning.
The emergence and application of innovative project control technologies and software are helping project visualization. In some cases, 3-D project models have helped reduce project costs by creating a greater understanding of the full-scale of a project. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence has also emerged as a key tool to support decision-making.
Technology, when used appropriately and led by strong project controls practices and experience, can help reduce project schedules. Both are important and should be considered mutually inclusive.
Planning is a constant dynamic process that requires continuous refinement to ensure a clear direction. Project controls provide a roadmap with assessable milestones to determine project status on an ongoing basis. Continual evaluation using data and analysis of experienced professionals can ensure success for all project stakeholders and the communities they support.
Joseph Mahendran is Operations Manager for Black & Veatch South Africa. He develops and maintains client relationships, has worked in project management for more than two decades internationally and across multiple industries. With experience in both traditional engineering, EPC and turnkey operations, he specializes in project controls, strategic and risk management, competitor analysis, change management and advanced statistical analysis. Mahendran is based in Johannesburg.