A Microgrid to Proactively Build Resiliency
While Burns & McDonnell is headquartered in Kansas City, it takes on projects all over the world. The firm’s founders and namesakes got their start working on water, sewer, and lighting projects in the Midwestern United States in the early 1900s, and many of its original clients remain. One of them, Liberty Utilities, operates electrical, water, and gas utilities all over the U.S.
Strong winds, lightning, human-caused fires, and equipment malfunctions are among the leading causes of wildfires. Utility companies may shut off power lines when certain criteria are met.
A brilliant solution known as a microgrid is a power source typically consisting of solar panels, battery storage, and backup propane or diesel generation. When distribution lines from the main grid are de-energized, a microgrid can power customers at the end of a distribution line while mitigating risks of red flag warnings in affected areas.
In early 2020, Liberty Utilities asked Burns & McDonnell for help with a renewable microgrid at the end of one of their remote distribution lines that serve customers in and around Truckee, California. The location of the microgrid receives almost 17 feet of snow per year on average.
Halted by COVID-19
Liberty Utilities and Burns & McDonnell released a request for proposals to build the microgrid in February 2020. Just a few weeks later, California went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. “The project was in a very remote location,” says Burns & McDonnell Engineering Manager Skyler Wills, “and bidders had no idea what it looked like. There was no Street View to speak of.”
Liberty Utilities wanted the microgrid installed by the end of 2020, but feared it would be delayed an entire year if bidders couldn’t look at the site and finish construction before heavy snow returned. To solve this issue, Burns & McDonnell approached Liberty Utilities and suggested using Matterport. They used a LeicaBLK 360 camera and the Matterport Capture app to scan the entire site where the microgrid would go. Using the 3D scan, they annotated details that would be important to bidders, added a video of the miles-long access road, and scheduled a “virtual site visit.”
The Matterport Virtual Site Visit
Burns & McDonnell’s marketing team created a landing page to host the Matterport 3D tour and sent the link to all the bidders. They virtually “walked around” the site and allowed bidders to ask questions along the way.
“Normally only one or two representatives from a bidding company can visit a site,” Wills says, “so one of the great things about Matterport is that everybody involved with the project — from planning, design, buying materials, and constructing the equipment on-site — could see it. And they were able to refer back to it after the site visit.” Burns & McDonnell saw consistent traffic on the site page for three full weeks as bidders kept coming back to look around and take measurements — and their subcontractors did the same.
“The scan picks up so much detail that we’re able to zoom in on,” says Randy Meyer, land surveyor at Liberty Utilities. “There was a culvert that needed to be mitigated for drainage, and existing utility structures were also visible. All of these things come into play during the design process, and although we created a traditional topographic survey, it’s not quite the same as 3D. We made significant adjustments based on the Matterport scan and ended up with an even better design.”
The Matterport scan continued to be helpful even after the bidding process was over because third parties had a stake in the project too. The microgrid site is located near a UC Berkeley facility, a crucial partner for this project. And, because the project is in the Tahoe National Forest, approvals were needed from the Truckee Ranger District, which was also a key contributor.
“We were able to share the Matterport scan with a lot of different stakeholders,” Wills says. “It helped us convey what we needed and showed them what the site looked like prior to construction in order to get buy-in from everyone.”
The project moved at speed even during the pandemic, especially considering the lockdowns and how inhospitable the area can be during the winter.
We saved a whole year's worth of time,” Wills says. “The project certainly would have been delayed if not for Matterport’s products.”
Pushing the Industry into the Future
Bidders who participated in the virtual site visit filled out a questionnaire at the end, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Most said they want to use Matterport scans on future bids even after coronavirus restrictions are removed. Feedback from participating bidders ranged from “I feel like we just pushed the industry 20 years into the future” to “It was the next best thing to being there. Thanks so much for the comprehensive virtual tour.”
The success of using Matterport for the Liberty Utilities project is prompting a closer look at more ways to use the technology. “This microgrid is unique,” Wills says, “but it doesn’t have to be. It’s something that can be replicated all over Liberty’s territory. The microgrid project will be scanned with Matterport again when it’s finished, and Liberty will be able to use it to show their customers how they’re creating truly innovative solutions.”
ABOUT Burns & McDonnell
Burns & McDonnell is a family of companies with an unmatched team of 7,600 engineers, construction professionals, architects, technologists and scientists. With an integrated construction and design mindset, Burns & McDonnell offers full-service capabilities globally. Founded in 1898, Burns & McDonnell is a 100% employee-owned company.
Kansas City, Missouri
Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC)
Keep a critical microgrid project in California on track with a long-time utility client
A Matterport 3D virtual tour of a remote project site avoided a year-long delay due to COVID-19 lockdowns