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

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

Utopus Insights just released 5 tools for monitoring, analyzing your solar portfolio

solar PV data analysis

Utopus Insights, an energy analytics software company, announces the release of five powerful software tools for renewable generation producers, operators, OEMs, T&D utilities, ISOs/RTOs and other energy companies to solve their toughest analytics challenges with accurate, timely information at a low cost. The Utopus Insights product families are modular, integrated and offered as a hybrid on-premises/SaaS IoT solution.

Let’s meet them.

MaestrOS platform—A one-stop, data-curation and integrated app powerhouse.

MaestrOS provides out-of-the-box integration with siloed, distributed and real-time data into a curated data model. It links unmatched data curation capabilities with a CIM-compliant common data model, integrates Utopus Insights’ hyper-local weather forecasting service and supports the company’s product families. It includes state-of-the-art authentication and data security, and features published, public and secured APIs and intuitive visualization to work in harmony with a customer’s existing enterprise systems and to leverage their team’s expertise.

Xplore for Wind/Solar—See how all assets are performing in real-time on a single dashboard.

Xplore is a family of applications that delivers precise situational awareness by providing historical and real-time insights into solar and wind asset performance across an entire asset fleet – no matter the location, size or OEM of the assets. It provides intuitive visualizations that you can configure to suit operational performance metrics with personalized, instant alerts through a patented, innovative performance-modeling capability. Xplore seamlessly scales up to an entire fleet, drills down to a single asset or reviews at any operational level in-between to assess operational performance.

Keep Watch: How the PV monitoring landscape is evolving

Pulse for Wind/Solar—Determine what’s going to break or fail before it breaks or fails.

Pulse is a one-stop predictive maintenance application suite that enables you to identify, prioritize and preempt critical wind/solar component failure across a customer’s entire enterprise. Pulse goes beyond time- or condition-based maintenance analytics and uses patented algorithms to deliver risk-based insights into remaining component life for over 20 asset classes including inverters, transformers, generators, bearings and other mechanical/electrical equipment. It helps improve asset performance, system reliability and target capital investment to provide the greatest value.

HyperCast for Wind/Solar—Reliable renewable energy delivery in an unreliable climate.

HyperCast is a forecasting tool family that uses unsupervised, advanced machine learning on real-time wind and solar farm measurement data. It delivers a 72-hour advance forecast, updated every 10 minutes, for both available and active power generation with best-in-class MAE (Mean Absolute Error) results. HyperCast enables power quality improvement, congestion reduction and reduced downtime by syncing maintenance work to low-production days with up to a 14-day lead time. HyperCast enables customers to leverage market imbalances, sharpen day-ahead and intra-day bid strategies, and quickly identify and resolve asset production anomalies. These results are driven by hyper-local and energy-specific weather service (Nostradamus), that delivers 10-minute interval weather predictions up to 96 hours in advance at each solar farm location and each wind turbine location and hub height.

Nostradamus—Get a precise weather-wise peek into the future.

This is the hyper-local weather forecasting service. Nostradamus forecasts enable more informed decisions on where to preposition response assets, more accurate information to be shared with customers, communities and other key stakeholders, and ultimately reduce service restoration time. It runs a physics-based dynamic model on an HPCC (High-Performance Computing Cluster) to generate forecasts up to 96 hours in advance, at a 10-minute temporal resolution with an industry-leading level of precision down to 1 km². The tool can be quickly linked to a customer’s GIS-mapped assets, and can be made available as a SaaS within five business days.

SB Buzz Podcast: SunLink VP on tech, data, diversity and the path forward for solar

— Solar Builder magazine