Scanifly’s drone-based solar shading assessment approved by NYSERDA and MassCEC

solar shading drones

Both New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) have approved shading tools from Scanifly, a solar software platform that uses drones and 3D modeling to automate site surveying and design, as a verifiable method for solar system design and analysis. To gain acceptance, the state agencies reviewed numerous solar projects designed in Scanifly’s software of varying sizes and geographies. NYSERDA and MassCEC’s validation means that solar companies using Scanifly can now obtain incentives and financing – significant economic benefits – for their projects.

How it works

Scanifly’s proprietary tool is the first drone-based software solution to be approved nationwide. With Scanifly, system designers can analyze their projects with real-world context within inches of accuracy. They do not have to rely on satellite imagery, guess the heights of trees and other obstructions, or hope their handheld tools work once on the roof. Solar installers using Scanifly’s process can reduce surveying and design time by up to 90%, because they don’t have to climb on the roof until construction, and, since the site’s characteristics are automatically included in the software, only one truck roll is needed.

The workflow entails three simple steps:

(1) Site surveyors fly a drone capturing pictures of the site’s features. This takes on average 10 minutes for residential properties and 20 minutes for commercial ones;

(2) Surveyors upload the drone imagery directly to Scanifly’s software, which automatically creates a to-scale, virtual replica 3D model of the site;

(3) PV system designers click anywhere in the 3D model to generate a solar access viewshed, thus automatically creating a bankable shade report.

— Solar Builder magazine

Residential Rooftop Report: Heat up your solar install sales in 2019 (free report download)

roof top report

The Residential Rooftop Report for the first quarter of 2019 is now available for download. The theme is “Heating Up Sales,” and we’ve teamed up with report sponsor Aurora Solar to examine ways for residential solar installation companies to lower customer acquisition costs, close more leads and overall run a more streamlined, efficient local solar business. Just fill out the form below to access your free report.


  • Inside Sales: We take a journey down the residential solar sales funnel.
  • Design Intervention: How to save $850 per install with remote solar site assessments.
  • 3 Tactics for better solar designs under TOU rates.
  • Changing Change Orders: Tackle solar’s dirty little secret and reduce your number of change orders.
  • NEC 2017 Tips: Manufacturers explain how to best meet the new code.

— Solar Builder magazine

PV Pointer: Three tactics for better solar designs under time of use rates

The promise of lower utility bills is a key motivator for most prospective solar customers, but time of use (TOU) rates — which charge different electricity prices depending on the time of day — add complexity to finding the best deal for the customer. Luckily, there are several strategies solar contractors can use to design the optimal PV system under specific TOU rates that will increase a customer’s solar savings and make your proposals more competitive.

olar design and financial analysis software

Solar design and financial analysis software example.

1. Start with integrated system design and financial analysis tools

One of the first considerations for finding the best design for TOU rates is to make sure you’re using software tools that will let you easily and accurately determine how different design choices will impact the financial returns of your project.

The structure of TOU rates varies, with important differences in the time periods when different pricing applies. TOU rates can be very favorable for solar customers if peak price hours coincide with when PV systems produce the most. In other cases, like when peak price hours occur in the evening, TOU rates can reduce solar savings.

To get an accurate understanding of your customer’s savings, your financial modeling tools must take into account how much the PV system will produce at different times, combined with the exact structure of your customer’s TOU rate. Beyond that, integrated solar design and financial analysis software will allow you to quickly see how system design changes or alternative utility rates affect project economics.

2. Get smart about post-solar rate choices

A second consideration for saving your customer the most money with their solar installation is to familiarize yourself with their utility rate choices and the financial implications of different rates. In some cases, the solar customer only has one potential rate that they are eligible for, but other times (like for some PG&E customers) there are multiple options. If your customer has a choice between rates, make sure to explore the financial implications of different options.

Choosing the best rate can significantly improve the economics of the project. In a case study of a solar design for a medium-sized office building in PG&E territory in California, Aurora Solar found that choosing a different post-solar rate resulted in over $42,000 in additional savings over the lifetime of the project. In addition to the increased savings making your proposal more compelling, this kind of expertise can distinguish your company in the sales process.

3. Explore alternative azimuths for your PV design

Finally, contractors can also experiment with different azimuths (orientations) to adjust the timing of some of the array’s production. For example, if a system is facing west, it may produce less overall but have more production later in the day. In cases where peak hours are late in the day, there may be times when this makes sense.

Again, using an integrated program for solar design and financial analysis makes assessing the merit of these kinds of design changes a lot easier because you’ll more easily be able to compare the value of the solar energy produced, overall system production and other financial metrics like payback period.

Even if TOU rates have not arrived in your area yet, they are likely to be more common in the future. Getting smart about how to maximize your customers’ savings under TOU rates can help you stay ahead of the curve.

— Solar Builder magazine

Micro Tiny Home is a Minimalist’s Dream

Italian architect and engineer Leonardo Di Chiara recently designed and built a prototype of a micro tiny home, which is seriously small yet still wonderfully functional.  The so-called aVOID tiny house measures just 96 sq ft (9 sq) and is easily towable.  Given its diminutive size, it also presents some unique downsizing solutions.

The home rests atop a double-axle trailer and has a wooden frame, metal cladding, and plenty of glazing. The interior is comprised of a single room and a bathroom. To make the most of the available space, most of the furniture is hidden inside the walls. The home features a Murphy-style single bed, which can be pulled down when needed, and stored away during the day. It can also be turned into a double bed. The dining table also features a pull down design and can easily be stowed away when not needed.  There is also a small, but functional kitchenette, which features a sink, a two-burner induction stove, and some shelving for storage.

The aVOID home also features a rooftop terrace which is accessible via a ladder.  It is great for lounging on sunny days.  The bathroom is tiny and features a shower, composting toilet and some storage space.

Di Chiara is still working on the home, and plans to install solar panels and a greywater system, which will make it independent of the grid. The home is currently on display at Berlin’s Bauhaus Archive Museum of Design, but DiChiara lives in it full time otherwise, with the goal of learning all he can about tiny house living. He says it’s not much different that living at home with his parents, in a small bedroom which must also serve many purposes as one grows up.

Tiny Home Design With a Hidden Bed

The tiny home builder Cubist Engineering, which is based in Greenwich, New York has created a very interesting tiny home, which has no standard bedroom. Instead, the bed is stowed away under the ceiling in the living room and lowered with the press of a button when needed.

The so-called Sturgis is a 21 ft (6.4 m)-long towable home, and despite its very small size it is quite spacious. Most of the space is gained by not having a standard bedroom, but the rest of the layout was also carefully planned with maximizing the available space in mind.

The Sturgis tiny home features a CLT (cross-laminated timber) structure, and has a cypress wood siding, which was treated by the Shou Sugi Ban method to preserve it and deter pests.  The home also features a fiberglass roof. The home has a total floor space of 170 sq ft (15.8 sq m) and much of it is taken up by the living area, which is equipped with a modular sofa, some cabinetry, and a coffee table.

The kitchenette is small but functional. It features a butcher block countertop, and a two-burner induction stove, while there is also enough space for a fridge and freezer. The bathroom is also quite small, but big enough for a shower, toilet and sink.

The Sturgis has no lofts, the queen-sized bed is simply lowered down by the flick of a switch when it is time for bed.  The mattress is supported by a steel frame, which is wrapped in maple.   According to Cubist Engineering, the bearing and railing system used to raise and lower the bed is the same one that is also used to load fuel rods in nuclear plants.

There is also a so-called “bonus space” in this tiny home, which was created by a raised space next to the living room. It can be used as a reading nook, or storage space and is big enough to store a motorcycle. It can also be used as a utility area, storage space, and more. This storage area can also be accessed from the outside via a gull-wing door that is operated by a remote control.

For power the tiny home uses a standard RV-style hookup, though a solar power system is an optional add-on to the basic version.  Other add-ons include a rainwater collection system, an exterior deck, a security package comprised of cameras and motion sensors, as well as a remote management system, which allows for controlling the lighting, etc. using a smartphone app.

The basic version of the Sturgis home without any add-ons costs $99,000. Apart from homes, the firm also offers different versions of this tiny dwelling, which are suitable as retail space, studios and more.