Chris Cowap ZLC Energy

Chris Cowap

Renewable energy engineer

What does a sustainable energy engineer do?

My role involves a variety of jobs, but essentially I design and project manage the installations. I build relationships with all of our technical partners, liaise with the relevant authorities and purchase the equipment we need for each job.

Explain more about the design process

I meet with either Matthew or Mark after they’ve seen a client. We talk about how we’re going to achieve everything we’d hope to and then I start the physical process of drawing the design of the installation, whether that’s solar PV or a ground source heat pump.

The technology side of things comes into play as I consider a range of different technologies that can be used with each project. If we can come up with something innovative, we will. We like to find technology that compliments the installation, it isn’t simply about sticking any old product in and walking away.

Drawings are made up of specifications for each installation, calculations on the efficiency of the product and physical drawings of how the renewables should be installed.

Why is being innovative important to each installation?

For me the devil is in the detail and it really floats my boat. Yes, two pieces of kit might look the same but they can have very different ways of interacting with each other. We want to ensure the product is as efficient as possible for the customer and that means constantly looking at projects with new, fresh and interested perspectives.

Ultimately it’s about finding what’s best for the end user. If someone asks for a product that they don’t necessarily need, we won’t install it for the sake of it, we’ll explain the best way to approach a project.

How long does the design process take?

It usually takes at least two weeks and then it will depend on how many times we need to go back to the customer to discuss the project. Initially we’ll offer the best overall approach, but then a client might say ‘we can’t afford that’, so that’s where value engineering comes into play. I’ll try to find a most cost effective way of delivering as close to what the customer wants as possible.

What are the next steps?

After I’ve been given the go ahead with the plans I draw up a more detailed project plan, this ensures everyone in the team knows exactly what they should be doing and when. I’ll also put together an installation plan, order and purchase the equipment we need and deal with any contractors or authorities.

What authorities need to be involved?

An installation might need permission from a power company like Western Power, that tends to be more relevant for commercial projects. It can be quite an involved process, it’s not as simple as applying for permission and being granted it every time. Sometimes we might need council permission, such as planning permission.

The good thing is our customers don’t need to hire an architect, we can look after the whole job from start to finish on their behalf.

Does your involvement end when the job is finished?

Not quite. I will be involved throughout each installation, dipping in and out of the job. For larger, commercial jobs I’ll be there at the commissioning process, which is when we check that everything is working as it should, if the settings need tweaking and if temperatures are as expected.

Again for larger job I will write a specific manual with all of the commissioning information, data, testing and paperwork included for the client.

Have you always worked in renewable energy?

I spent eight years as the project manager for the Trafford Centre in Manchester. I knew someone who worked in renewable energy and he often used to say they could do with someone like me, so eventually I joined his business. My first job was a real baptism of fire designing a ground source heat pump in Torpoint.

I moved to Cornwall for my old job and got to know Mark as he was one of my previous firm’s customers. When Mark set up ZLC he asked me to join the business and I’ve been with them ever since.

Do you feel passionately about renewable energy?

I’ve clearly got an environmental twist to me and I’ve always been interested in engineering. I’m an architectural technician by trade, but I love the engineering side, getting things to work together that wouldn’t necessarily go together.

This is certainly the most interesting job and career I’ve ever had due to the ever changing technology.