Remote site assessment cuts solar design time, costs (about $850 per install)

Aurora_remote assessment

There are some solar installation costs we can’t control, such as the tariffs imposed on the industry this year. But when it comes to cutting soft costs, which now comprise more than half of the cost of a solar installation, installers have a valuable tool in their tool kits: remote site assessment and design. NREL has estimated that solar design software that supports remote shading analysis can save installers $0.17/W per 5-kW system (~$850 per install).

Samuel Adeyemo and Christopher Hopper experienced directly how time-consuming and laborious solar design can be when they partnered on a commercial solar installation to power a school in Kenya in 2012. Installing the system took only a few weeks, but designing the system from across the world required months of planning. After talking to other solar installers, Adeyemo and Hopper realized time-intensive solar design processes were a common struggle.

With the goal of providing a more efficient way to design solar projects while maintaining precision and accuracy, they set about building Aurora Solar in 2013. Today, tools like Aurora’s solar design software are modernizing the design process and offering significant benefits to installers that utilize them.

Save time, effort and money

One of the most tangible benefits of using solar design software is the time and money saved from reduced truck rolls. Traditionally, site visits have been an important step in the solar design and sales process, as a starting point for installers to accurately assess the shading on the roof and determine the appropriate PV system size.

When you or your team have to spend hours driving to prospective customers’ homes and businesses, climbing on the roofs and taking manual measurements, it can be costly—especially during the pre-sale stage. However, with software that enables you to get a detailed understanding of the project site as well as the solar access and shading, you can drastically reduce the need for costly site visits.

Residential installer Solarponics experienced this benefit firsthand. After switching to Aurora for their solar designs, the company has been able to reduce their pre-sale site visits by 90 percent while doubling installations and keeping their closing rate constant.

Improve sales with faster proposal turnaround times

Streamlining your solar design process through remote site assessment also offers important sales benefits. Being able to quickly send an accurate design and quote for a customer, rather than waiting on a site visit, can make a significant difference in closing the sale.

Hans Frederickson, owner of Cascadia Solar, learned this when a company used remote site assessment to close a deal with one of his prospective customers while he was completing his onsite assessment. Soon after that experience, Cascadia Solar switched to remote site assessment and now can send customers a quote within an hour of talking with them on the phone, their solar sales have doubled month over month and more than doubled year over year.

Having a more efficient assessment and design process also makes it possible to pursue leads that might previously have been too costly. “It used to be that proposals were so time-consuming that I would focus on carefully qualifying each lead, but Aurora has allowed us to respond in a much more effective way to every solar lead we get,” says Frederickson.

Bankable accuracy

Of course, in order for remote site assessment to truly be valuable, your solar design, production and bill savings estimates must be accurate and precise to avoid change orders down the line. Thankfully, with the application of cutting edge technologies, remote solar design tools like Aurora offer accuracy that companies can be confident putting their name behind. NREL has validated the accuracy of both Aurora’s performance simulations and its remote shading analysis, which was found to be statistically equivalent to onsite measurements.

Rebate authorities around the country, such as CT Green Bank, NYSERDA, and the Energy Trust of Oregon, accept Aurora’s remote shade reports as an acceptable replacement for time-consuming and costly onsite inspections previously required when applying for rebates.

Data on change orders: Cost and prevalence

Aurora aims to give installers the tools to design and sell better solar, including reducing errors that lead to change orders. Recognizing that there is limited data on the prevalence and cost of change orders in the industry, Aurora surveyed solar professionals about the impact of change orders in a recent webinar. Download our data on change order cost and prevalence to see how your experience stacks up against others in the industry.

— Solar Builder magazine

SolarEdge launches new web-based PV system design tool

SolarEdge

SolarEdge Technologies is launching a new Designer tool to enable faster, easier planning of solar energy system designs. The new web-based tool with an intuitive graphical interface helps installers lower PV design costs and increase conversion rates by creating compelling customer proposals. The free Designer tool is part of SolarEdge’s comprehensive vision to support the entire PV process, including design, quotation, installation, and monitoring in one, end-to-end, cloud-based platform.

What’s new?

Designer uses satellite imagery and provides instant validation of a site’s design. The tool also simplifies the electrical design process with product recommendations and a Bill of Materials report. By creating attractive and informative homeowner offers, which include intuitive 3D site modeling and monthly energy simulations, SolarEdge’s Designer supports the sales process for PV installers.

RELATED:  How to design a perfect solar system — then sell it — with Aurora Solar COO

“Software is playing a more pivotal role in the PV industry, from the local level of each residential system all the way up to the macro level of grid management,” stated Lior Handelsman, VP of Marketing and Product Strategy, founder of SolarEdge. “With the release of our new easy-to-use Designer, SolarEdge is further enhancing its software suite to provide added value to installers throughout the PV process.”

Now available around the world, Designer is hosted in the cloud with access from any Mac or PC, enables multi-user access, and offers seamless integration with the SolarEdge monitoring platform for quick creation of site layouts.

— Solar Builder magazine

SB Buzz: How to design a perfect solar system — then sell it — with Aurora Solar COO

Aurora Solar solar sales

In our March/April issue, we included a roundup of new technology that could improve a solar company’s customer service capabilities, whether it was through quicker project design, better proposals or advanced monitoring capabilities. Aurora Solar was one company in the roundup, which provides one of the best PV design and proposal systems out there. About 50,000 PV projects a month are designed with its Aurora platform.

The secret sauce is in Aurora’s algorithm for generating a 3D reconstruction of a building, laying out prospective system designs on top and simulating the sun’s path over the site. Using Aurora’s algorithms, installers can quickly generate an accurate report detailing the irradiance and shading. In fact, the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has validated that Aurora Solar’s Shade Reports are statistically equivalent to on-site measurements and rebate authorities around the country will accept its offsite reports in replace of those on-site inspections. Aurora even recently improved upon its system, partnering with Nearmap for a serious upgrade to its site image interface.

All of that sounded pretty neat to us, so we stopped by Aurora’s offices in San Francisco to chat about all of it with COO and co-founder Sam Adeyemo for the latest episode of our Solar Builder Buzz podcast. We get into the keys to off-site design and shade analysis and the evolution of mass customization in the solar industry. We also explore what we consider to be the most impactful piece of this puzzle: how sophisticated sales proposal tools could shape the future of smaller, regional solar companies. Below is an excerpt from that part of the conversation, in which Adeyemo explains the hilarious, arduous, but ultimately satisfying development of that Aurora’s sales proposal tool.

Be sure to listen to the full conversation (and subscribe) at the end of the post.

SB: How did you develop the sales proposal tool?

Adeyemo: “When we were developing our proposal tool … remember we’re technologists. We develop software and infrastructure. And about two years ago we thought, we have this shade and financial analysis, but we need something that ties this all together. We can’t have people taking screenshots or using PowerPoint. We just want to wrap it up in a neat bow and take this all to the customer and wow them.

“So, what are we going to do? We had all of these debates internally about how it should look. Portrait or landscape? Should the company’s logo be on the front? On the back? All of these debates. We couldn’t agree. So, in keeping with our value of being a software platform that applies to the entire industry, we said we’ll develop a tool that allows the customer to develop whatever proposal they want. It’ll be like PowerPoint. You can pick and choose styles and create from scratch. We made this announcement and our clients said, ‘this sounds awesome.’

“We spent a ton of time – almost a year building this. At the end we say, ‘Ta da, here it is!’ And they open it and are like, ‘but it’s blank.’ And we’re like, ‘yea! That’s the point. It can look like whatever you want!’ So, people started to use it, and we looked at some of the results, and it was terrible. Stuff was overlapping … the solar community is good at designing and installing, but visual arts might not be their thing. So, after a few months it became clear we had to do something.

“… We may not be the experts in visual design, but someone out there is. We got this awesome brand consultant Katherine Glass [of SpringMark Branding]. She’s worked with companies like Starbucks and Bank of America. If we can get her expertise and apply it to the whole industry, that would be awesome. So we got her, and she did a bunch of customer interviews. We invited a range of solar installers to our office and had a full day roundtable. We had one guy who said, ‘I’m not a solar installer; I’m an activist who installs solar.’ We had another guy who said, ‘I’m a consultant.’ Another saying they were more of a corporate person. So it was great to get this diversity of opinions. And Katherine presented consumer research and got some good feedback. From there, we had a good design, and then we got some professional artists and designers to put together the proposal. All of this took another year.

‘Now we have a series of four really beautiful templates. You can still create your own, but if you don’t, there is some visually stunning proposals that any solar installer can use. The gratifying part is the mom and pop shop doesn’t have to hire someone like Kathryn to do this.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Aurora Solar sales, design software now includes HD aerial images from Nearmap

nearmap

Aurora Solar, a solar sales and design software leader that was in our nine customer service products to watch, sent word that it is now partnering with Nearmap for a serious upgrade to its site image interface. Through this collaboration, Nearmap’s up-to-date, sub 3” GSD imagery is now available within Aurora’s software, helping solar installers design and sell with exact precision.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Nearmap to provide aerial imagery to solar installers across the country,” said Chris Hopper, CEO and co-founder of Aurora Solar. “By integrating high-resolution imagery with our industry-leading software, we empower solar installers to quote with confidence—reducing the number of truck rolls required. This is the next big step in remote solar design.”

Previously, Aurora has enabled its users to design over 1 million solar projects, with over 60,000 projects designed in March 2018 alone. Now, in addition to satellite imagery, Aurora customers can utilize high-resolution and current Nearmap imagery for increased accuracy and informed decision-making.

RELATED: How Momentum Solar doubled its business with aerial imaging software

“We’re excited to announce this relationship because it offers a lot of flexibility for both Nearmap and Aurora customers. The partnership offers solutions for businesses of all sizes. Organizations can choose from different licensing models: pay as you go, with unlimited access to imagery, or per bundle through Aurora, which provides a more flexible option based on the needs of the user,” said Patrick Quigley, EVP of Nearmap U.S. In addition, existing Nearmap customers can also authenticate their Nearmap licenses in Aurora.

Alex Chelius of Momentum Solar notes that this integration will “significantly increase our productivity as well as accuracy.”

Aurora Solar users now can …

• Reduce costly, time-intensive on-site visits with Nearmap aerial captures. The imagery’s detail enables professionals to measure and design from the comfort of an office with a precision that rivals traditional measuring methods.

• Enhance their shading analysis and remote system design processes by utilizing high definition images to better model sites.
• Increase the number of leads they nurture by spending less time on each lead. Aurora users are now able to expand their coverage area rapidly.

• Access Nearmap historical captures so users can visualize the property through all seasons.

“Every design begins with imagery, and high-quality imagery helps designers create permit-quality drawings and game-changing proposals,” said JT McCook, sales consultant at Aurora Solar. “That’s why this integration is so exciting; it allows solar installers to create highly accurate 3D models remotely.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Aurora Solar remote shading assessment tool now allowed over on-site inspection by Connecticut Green Bank

Aurora Solar site assessment

Measurements providing the solar potential of a roof are a crucial piece of information that installers, private financing firms, and government rebate authorities rely upon in designing solar systems, and issuing financing and rebates for their installation. And they can be a pain to get done — an expensive — unless you are using software approved by those rebate authorities to avoid physically going to the site.

For instance, the Connecticut Green Bank became the latest such authority to declare Aurora Solar‘s remote shading simulation software an acceptable replacement for the time-consuming and costly onsite inspections. Aurora incorporates the measurements of a site’s solar potential as part of a standardized “Solar Shade Report” that consolidates all the information solar companies need in making financing, installation, and rebate decisions.

Aurora’s novel methodology relies on algorithmically generating a 3D reconstruction of a building, and then simulating the sun’s path over the site in order to determine the roof’s solar potential. Using Aurora’s algorithms, anyone with web access can quickly generate an accurate report detailing the irradiance and shading of any surface in the world.

The results of Aurora’s web-based software are accurate and reliable enough to replace measurements collected through a physical site visit and inspection, and the company as now amassed acceptance from a ton of rebate authorities, including:

• CT Green Bank
• New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)
• Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund
• Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC)
• New Jersey Clean Energy Fund
• City of Roseville Residential Solar Energy Program
• Oncor
• Energy Trust of Oregon

In addition, the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has validated that Aurora Solar’s shade reports are statistically equivalent to on-site measurements. Accordingly, NREL estimates that Aurora with its remote shading analysis can save installers $0.17/W on a 5-kW system (~$850 per install).

 

While prices for solar hardware have fallen by over 70% in the past 10 years, “soft costs” have remained stubbornly high due to these on-site surveys and other related activities, inhibiting residential adoption. These soft costs now comprise more than half the cost of a typical solar installation. Being able to quickly and accurately calculate a roof’s solar potential promises to slash the expense involved in quoting a solar installation.

— Solar Builder magazine