What's an electrical manager?
A deep dive into the electrical project manager role on our solar team
A Mortenson solar project has an electrical project manager AND a project manager on it. We're the only solar general contractor that dedicates a project manager to electrical work--our electrical managers.
We talked with Jeswin Geevarughese to help us explain the importance of having an electrical manager (electrical project manager) on our solar projects, his relationships with the project manager and electrical superintendent, dealing with project financials, and building customer relationships.
Why we have an electrical manager on all of our solar projects
JG: We have three different main categories. One is mechanical, the second would be civil, and then the third would be electrical. There is an electrical manager on our projects because the scope of electrical is so extensive.
Just a very simple example. If you pick up the drawings for the project I'm working on, Maiden Creek Project, the civil set consists of 35 pages. The structural, or mechanical set, consists of 8 pages. The electrical set consists of 167 pages. It's extremely intense, electrically speaking.
There are so many small electrical bits and pieces that are happening on the project that we need a project manager focused entirely on managing the electrical parts and components to complete the project. The project manager takes care of the civil and mechanical side.
How involved the project manager gets with the electrical piece
JG: The project manager is responsible for the financial piece of the overall project. His or her involvement in electrical is very high-level. They have questions, I debrief on the electrical side, and the project manager can run with that information.
For example, let's talk about financials. We put out PFPs (project financial projections) every month that get sent to leadership. They spell out whether or not, at the end of the project, we will make money. Electrical managers provide the electrical part of the PFP.
We know what electrical tasks there are, how many people we have, the number of weeks we're projecting, and if we will make money at the end of the project. Those are the answers that a project manager is looking for when we connect.
The relationship with the electrical superintendent
JG: The electrical superintendent makes sure everything in the solar plan is built per the specs, per the owner's request. And the electrical manager makes sure that the electrical superintendent gets the correct information at the right time to make the right decisions. So it's a collaborative effort between the two positions.
We do a pull plan at the beginning of the project and lay it out before starting. Start at the end and go all the way forward. The electrical superintendent and the electrical manager work backward to establish the dates we need to start work. Once we have our dates, it rolls.
The electrical manager goes after the tools and material, and the electrical superintendent goes after the workforce. I'm calling suppliers, setting up meetings on the material procurement side, and writing contracts. The superintendent's main job is to be out in the field and ensure that it runs smoothly.
When it's time for Task A to start, we know the start and finish date. Every morning during POD (our "plan of the day"), we discuss what needs to be finished and what we did yesterday. And if we didn't do it, why didn't we do it? Was it workforce limitation? Was it the equipment? Was it the weather? Was it a failure to comply with the plan? It could be so many different reasons. The electrical superintendent and I sit down and try to find the most efficient way to accomplish that particular task.
Why your involvement in pre-construction is so important
JG: Design work happens in pre-construction, and then the team mobilizes on-site to do the construction. The project manager, the superintendent, the electrical superintendent, and the electrical project manager are all included in this phase.
The electrical manager and the electrical superintendent look at the prints and sit down with the customer. We have a conversation about whether this will work or not and the work's electrical definition or scope. We can change the routing of the cables. We can change the particular type of material we order. We can put in an RFI. Things of that nature get captured in the pre-construction phase.
Let's say that phase is three months. In those three months, you're capturing all of the design requirements. Once it's handed to the electrical manager and electrical superintendent, they execute the electrical basis that they established with the client.
The most important thing during design is doing takeoffs. You need to know the details of how much material you need to finish the entire project. How many nuts, bolts, and Screws? How much cable? Ground wire? You don't get to make multiple orders every month.
And that's done with the help of the superintendent. That's straight-up teamwork, team effort. The electrical superintendent gets into the granularity of the details. Do we need hex nuts versus graded nuts? The electrical manager and the electrical superintendent are tied together during design.
The challenges of material procurement and writing contracts
JG: People don't realize there's so much work that needs to be done before turning on a power plant. We have to write contracts. It's a process. And we write about 10 to 12 for a project. We are getting into negotiation phases with them. Pricing, schedule, material, you name it.
An electrical project manager writes these contracts because of the many electrical pieces needed to procure from a subcontractor. I know the value of all of our contracts—the ins and outs of them.
For example, we have inverters on-site. They're a 20 to 24-week lead time item. If you don't have your contract put in place and signed 20 to 24-weeks prior, you're already going to be behind right from the get-go. And this happens in pre-construction, right? One of the biggest challenges is identifying the long-lead items and then writing those contracts earlier.
Managing subcontractors and suppliers
JG: Besides managing the electrical subcontractors, whether that's a Mortenson team or not, I'm making sure they're on schedule. We manage a lot of other subcontractors, as well. You could have fencing contractors. A crane contractor. A third-party testing contractor. A drone contractor that comes in and takes thermal images. And you could have a whole host of others. Suppliers, too.
We do supplier meetings weekly to look at obstacles, quality, and any problems the suppliers face. Nowadays, there's always some form of COVID delay. We react quickly because we still have the material on-site and need to modify our plan and direct the workforce to a different task or hold off on hiring altogether.
Building client relationships
JG: The project manager, the electrical manager, and the superintendents are the liaison between the customer and Mortenson. And we all need to know our processes. If a customer comes with a question, you need to be able to find out the answer.
We communicate with the customer weekly. What's happening on-site, how the schedule is looking, and the plan if we're falling behind. What is Plan A? Plan B? You almost need to have plan Z when finishing a task because it helps complete the project.
Sometimes we have meetings with a customer, and they bring us their problem or request. We have to be teachers and help them understand the best approach. They're coming to us and saying, "Hey, you know what? We've never done this. What do you guys think?" There's a lot of customer relationship building that rarely gets mentioned, but it happens!
The importance of an electrical background
JG: Electrical managers often are getting pulled into very specific electrical conversations with a customer. My most recent example is around a grounding study. Whatever the topic, the electrical manager provides their input, relays the summary to the project manager, and keeps building.
Understanding electrical power theory, transient energy, and grounding are paramount in this role. It all gets muddy at some point.
But when you talk about a power plant, it's essential to understand the ins and outs. When you have an energized power plant, you're now talking about people's lives. It's is so vital for a person to know what way the electrical energy flows. What direction is it going to flow? Is it positive voltage? Is it negative voltage? How many amperes is it? Do you open this cabinet when it's energized? Things like that.
After we energize anything, only a Qualified Energy Worker (QEW) can do energized work. There are only about 8 to 10 people on-site who can do that work. It is that critical.