Procurement Guidance

Procuring a solar electric system is a similar process to purchasing a new HVAC system, roof, or comparable property investment. A project manager (PM) must understand high-level options and costs if they want to release a competitive bid and receive the best price offer. Once selected, the installer can help the PM throughout the construction process. If a PM wants additional support they can request procurement consultation at www.masscec.com/ask-advisor. The procurement process includes the following steps:

Step 1: Assemble Project Team and Define Project Goals 

The first step is to gather an internal team or hire a consultant to support the procurement process. The table below summarizes key team members or areas of expertise that may be needed. The level of effort and expertise needed may vary based on size, complexity, and phase of the project. At the outset of the project, the team should learn solar basics at www.masscec.com/how-it-works-and-available-incentives, and should define and prioritize goals to ensure that the solar system will meet company objectives. Potential goals could include reaching a corporate renewable energy supply target, reducing peak electricity usage, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing electricity costs, minimizing payback period, and increasing power reliability. A company’s priorities, which can be refined as available options are determined, can provide guidance to help installers propose the appropriate system size, design, and financing structure, and may lead the company to consider installing an energy storage system.

Team Member Type
Role
Project Manager
Oversees procurement process and accounting; coordinates project team
Facility Manager
Provides site-specific information and oversees installation
Engineer
Helps develop RFP specifications and reviews system design
Contract Officer / Attorney  
Drafts and/or reviews contracts with the installer
Financial Officer
Evaluates financial feasibility and monitors budget constraints

Step 2: Gather Site Information

Basic project site information should be gathered to help issue a request for proposals (RFP) or refine quotes in Step 3. The following information should be gathered:

  • Property map/schematic with rooftop orientation (e.g. south or southwest facing, etc.), layout, and angle, ideally including full building/architectural plans if available

  • Rooftop material, condition, and age

  • Electrical infrastructure capacity, condition, and age

  • Utility provider and electricity bills for the previous twelve-months

Step 3: Request and Receive Proposals

To solicit proposals for a solar system, a PM can issue a competitive RFP publicly and to multiple certified installers, or request quotes directly from a few trusted installers. For either of these methods, the PM can use MassCEC's project and cost data to find installers who have completed nearby commercial projects. The PM can also refer to the North American Board of Certified Energy PractitionersSolar Energy Industry Associations, and Solar Energy Business Association of New England online directories, which are searchable for companies that offer solar (or solar + storage) installation services in Massachusetts. There are also several online resources to help a PM find installers, seek reviews, or receive and compare quotes. The table below compares primary pathways for receiving bids.

  • Issue a competitive RFP. The Department of Energy Better Buildings has developed a Solar PV RFP & Procurement Guidance Template that can be customized for a specific site. For more complex projects, it may be helpful to seek third-party technical expertise to support the development of an RFP. As a best practice, the PM should send a RFP to multiple installers and may post the RFP to their webpage. The RFP should be open for 4-6 weeks to receive competitive bids. Issuing a RFP requires a longer procurement process, but allows property owners to specify the goals and parameters of the project and makes it easier to compare quotes.                                          

  • Contact installers directly. The PM can also contact local installers directly or through available online platforms to solicit project quotes. The PM should work with interested installer(s) to scope and design the quoted system to meet project goals and facilitate comparison. Best practice is to seek and compare at least three different bids. This option is quicker than issuing a RFP, but may make it more difficult to compare quotes, particularly for complex projects.

Regardless of the method, every quote received should include the information outlined in the “Elements of a Solar Bid” box.

Elements of a Solar Bid
Project timeline and next steps
Total and itemized cost of installation
Financing options and associated costs
Information on equipment installed, including make, model and warranty
Permit acquisition plan
Operations and maintenance costs and plan
Projected monthly, annual, and lifetime performance in desired metric(s)
Specifications of post-commissioning procedure
Project team experience and certifications
Projected electric bill savings and payback period

Step 4: Review Proposals, Award Bid, and Sign Contract

Once received, the procurement team will have to evaluate competing bids to select an installer. The evaluation criteria used will vary for each company, but should likely include the following considerations:

  • Bid Completeness: Bid includes all the information listed in the “Elements of a Solar Bid.”                                                                                                                                          

  • Cost Effectiveness: Bid meets or exceeds company’s financial goals (e.g. Net Present Value, Payback Period, $/W, $/kWh). The bid can also be evaluated against market data available at www.masscec.com/cost-and-performance. However, it is important to note that every site has unique considerations, so market data may not be directly comparable.

  • System Design: System design meets or exceeds site requirements and energy production targets.

  • Implementation Schedule: Proposed schedule meets company’s needs and deadlines.

  • Installer Qualifications: Installer has a track record of installing comparable projects in terms of size, design, and building/roof type in Massachusetts.

  • Installer References. Installer’s customer references indicate high-quality service, system performance, and adherence to project timelines.

  • Project Team and Approach: Team has experience with all necessary licenses and certifications. Approach should clarify how the company will assist with any utility, state or federal incentives.

The project team may opt to conduct an interview with finalists before awarding the bid. This may also include the option of a bidders’ site walk if it did not occur earlier in the process.

If the procurement team determines the current value proposition is not strong enough to proceed, it may be worthwhile to establish a timeline for re-evaluation in 1-2 years as the technology, pricing, and incentives are likely to change over time.

After selection, the PM will move to contract negotiations with the chosen installer and then sign a contract for either an engineering, procurement and construction agreement to own the system, or a Power Purchase Agreement or Lease. After signing the contract, the selected installer leads the remainder of the process (Steps 6 and 7).

Step 5: Municipal and Utility Permits and Approvals

In almost all cases, the installer will be responsible for acquiring the permits and agreements necessary for the solar installation. These approvals will include the utility interconnection agreement, local building and electrical permits, local zoning permits, and state and federal incentive approvals. Make sure the installer provides clear instructions on steps that may be required by the system owner to finalize or receive any permits or incentives.

Step 6: Installation and Commissioning

After permits and approvals are obtained, the physical system installation can take from two days to one week depending on system size and complexity. After the installation is complete, the system must receive final approval from local permitting officials (i.e. building and electrical inspectors) and the utility before being connected to the grid. Finally, the installer should perform checks to ensure that the system is installed according to design and functions within anticipated performance parameters. Be sure that the installer provides copies of all relevant design documents, equipment specifications, and operating manuals for the system. The PM should ensure that someone is tasked with ongoing responsibility for the system, including monitoring for malfunctions and receipt of incentives.

Installation Completed!

After completing these steps, the business or organization is ready to begin enjoying the benefits provided by the solar system.

Summary of Project Timeline

The table below provides a summary of estimated timeline for each step in the procurement process. Actual time for each step will vary depending on project size and complexity, and there may be unexpected delays. Generally, property owners can expect the process to take six months up to two years.

Step(s)
Estimated Time
1. Assemble Project Team and Define Goals
2-4 weeks to assemble team, ongoing project coordination and goal definition
2. Gather Site Information
1-2 weeks depending on difficulty of finding information
3. Request and Receive Proposals
Timing will depend on procurement method, but should take 4-10 weeks
4. Review Proposals, Award Bid, and Sign Contract
Timing will depend on procurement method and number of bids, but should take 2-8 weeks
5. Municipal and Utility Permits and Approvals
5-10 weeks for all approvals and permitting (including interconnection) to be processed
6. Installation and Commissioning
2-3 weeks after all parts are ordered; commissioning will occur about 1 week after installation

 

Disclaimer: The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has not investigated, and expressly disclaims any duty to investigate, any company, product, service, process, procedure, design, or the like, which may be presented on the aforementioned websites. The presentation of these website links does not constitute endorsement, warranty, or guaranty, by MassCEC of any company, product, service, process, procedure, design, or the like. The entire risk of any information presented is assumed by the user.