Expert Q&A: Jessica Harre Discusses Innovations and Emerging Technologies for Renewable Energy Engineering Design
Jessica Harre is Tetra Tech’s renewable energy engineering practice lead based in Chicago, Illinois. She is a licensed professional engineer with more than 14 years of experience in the full project life cycle for utility-scale power generation projects on five continents. Her experience performing and managing engineering services includes structural design, construction monitoring, operations monitoring and condition assessments, and decommissioning for thermal and renewable energy generation projects.
Jessica’s experience includes more than 12 gigawatts of wind and more than 6 gigawatts of solar in addition to other generating technologies. Her structural design expertise includes photovoltaic and concentrated solar power projects; battery energy storage systems; on- and off-shore wind, biomass, and hydropower projects; and traditional fuel source projects, including coal, natural gas, heavy fuel oil, and liquid natural gas. In an independent engineer or technical advisor role, she has performed technical reviews and construction monitoring on behalf of project owners and lenders. In addition, Jessica has significant experience assessing the condition of wind turbine generator foundations at operating wind farms for asset sale, acquisition, or repowering.
Jessica has a bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Marquette University and a master’s degree in Management and Finance from the University of Illinois Chicago. She is a member of Engineers Without Borders, Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy, and the Women’s Energy Network. She volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Habitat for Humanity.
What are some of the major challenges facing engineering design for renewable energy clients today?
The major challenges facing engineering design include navigating the interconnection process and ensuring utility or International Organization for Standardization (ISO) compliance. Oftentimes, unique utility or ISO requirements require highly specialized engineering, such as redundancy in protection schemes and metering. This requires an experienced electrical engineer with knowledge of the specific utility or ISO in question.
Preliminary interconnection design engineering is necessary to procure long lead items, such as the high-voltage generator step-up (GSU) transformer. The GSU must have the proper specifications for successful interconnection. Therefore, ordering the GSU prior to completion of detailed design is a risk to the project stakeholders that could cause delays and increase costs if the GSU is not within the specifications of the interconnecting utility.
What changes have you seen in renewable energy engineering strategies during your career?
Over the course of my career, I have witnessed coal-powered generation reach a peak in the 2000s and drop significantly each year since. Similarly, both nuclear and natural gas generation peaked around 2010 and have experienced production declines each year since. Alternatively, renewable energy generation has kept pace with other energy sources, holding steady since the mid-2000s.
As renewable energy stakeholders seek lower costs and optimized schedules for engineering and construction, I’ve observed a shift towards standardized designs to reduce time necessary to produce engineering design packages. Tetra Tech continuously works to develop and refine our standardized designs for common renewable energy project elements, including racking and tracking piles, inverter foundations, and substation equipment foundations. This includes creating standard design calculation templates, developing standard details for typical industry components and equipment, and developing sets of standard notes to define the jurisdictional requirements for a given project area. Standardizing each of these components adds value in the form of labor hour reductions—for both engineering and construction—that result in overall cost savings.
How is Tetra Tech using current and emerging technologies to support engineering design for renewable energy projects?
Tetra Tech is diligent in our efforts to continually upgrade and improve our technological capabilities. We recently purchased PVcase—which incorporates 3D detail in solar design, enabling more accurate and comprehensive analysis of solar projects—and Flo2D—which enables us to simulate flooding at solar project sites in high resolution and generate detailed stormwater management reports including both hydrologic and hydraulic studies. We also create and run solar energy simulation models using software such as PVsyst to optimize solar array design and are actively adding experienced members to our team to provide support for other renewable resources such as wind and water. Use of these software programs, among others, allows Tetra Tech to reduce the level of effort needed to generate high quality, detailed engineering deliverables, which may result in cost savings and reduced schedule durations.
How does Tetra Tech support the engineering design needs of renewable energy project developers?
Tetra Tech has offices around the world with hundreds of qualified project managers and engineers experienced in the design of renewable energy projects. We work collaboratively across our offices to balance experience from industry-leading experts with responsive, local presence. We implement value engineering strategies to prioritize quality, schedule, and cost optimization throughout every stage of a project.
In addition, Tetra Tech has amassed extensive knowledge of renewable energy projects through providing environmental and permitting support to the industry. We leverage this knowledge, often in conjunction with project and jurisdictional experience, to enhance the overall quality of engineering deliverables for our clients and offer them innovative, cost-effective solutions that consider the entirety of the project life cycle.
How is engineering supporting the future of the renewable energy industry?
Building renewable energy projects with components that end up in a landfill runs counter to the intent and benefits of clean energy. Financiers and jurisdictional authorities are requiring plans and financial sureties to support projects being appropriately decommissioned at the end of their useful life. Tetra Tech is working with project stakeholders to develop strategic plans and cost estimates in consideration of available options for scrap, salvage, reuse, and recycling of project components.
In addition, Tetra Tech works collaboratively and efficiently with our clients to evaluate potential sites; navigate the regulatory environment; complete environmental impact assessments and permitting in compliance with all applicable regulations and statutes; and provide due diligence consulting services. Our experienced team of scientists, planners, engineers, and project managers understands both the federal and local regulations that govern renewable energy projects.