Products to watch: 9 customer service, proposal tools for the solar installer

solar installer customer service

The main components of a solar system, at this point, have been figured out. Module efficiency is higher than ever, inverters are more reliable and it’s tough to imagine more cost-effective and complete racking systems. So, what’s next? Storage? Sure, that’s coming at some point. Solar + storage + EV charging stations will be as common as air conditioning, and we’ll all be pushing buttons to create instant food like on the Jetsons. Heck, things will be so advanced, I’ll even have a reference to replace the Jetsons.

But in the meantime, the big opportunities for streamlining costs and improving lifetime system performance are in project modeling and monitoring. Finding, designing, pitching and selling systems in a streamlined way, and then extracting as much value out of that system as possible.

Luckily, there is a ton of innovation already in these areas. We rounded up a few platforms and products that might add that extra value to your process or save that extra Valium by easing your pain.

Aurora Solar SmartRoof

aurora solar smart roofAurora Solar Inc. is a fast-growing, cloud-based solar PV design and proposal software that is used to design over 12,000 new solar projects per week across the globe. Its latest creation is SmartRoof, a tool that allows anyone to accurately and easily model residential and commercial sites for solar projects. SmartRoof can intelligently infer the internal structure of a roof after a few clicks.

What’s cool about it?
Using the software, solar installers can just outline the perimeter of the roof and the software will automatically infer the rest of the roof’s structure. Aurora seems to have thought of everything, like quickly dragging and dropping dormers into the model and integrating them into their respective roof planes seamlessly. The remote site modeling tool enables designers to insert folds and intersect multiple roof structures, making modeling of complex roof structures significantly easier. This allows designers to create a permit-ready 3D model in less than a minute. In fact, its remote design and shade analysis tools are so accurate and reliable that several rebate authorities allow Aurora reports to replace measurements collected through a physical site visit and inspection, such as the Connecticut Green Bank, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Energy Trust of Oregon and a bunch more.

Continental Control Systems’ WattNode Meter

continental control wattnodeContinental Control Systems has designed a new meter module for mass production, the WattNode Meter, customizable for OEM metering design. Revenue-grade accuracy is obtainable using the CCS Accu-CT family of split-core current transformers.

What’s cool about it?
The WattNode Meter Module is a bidirectional networked energy meter offering energy measurement parameters such as energy (kW), power (kWh), voltage, current, demand, kVAR, kVARh, power factor, frequency, etc. These energy values are communicated using the Modbus RTU communication protocol over RS-485. The meter utilizes any external mounted or PCB mounted 0.333 Vac current transformers. Available as single- and three-phase modules, the meter is externally (instrument) powered from 12 to 24 Vac (isolated) or 6 to 24 Vdc. One model can measure 120 to 600 Vac, single-phase or three-phase, wye or delta services to measure bidirectionally, energy production and energy consumption. Available with a DIN rail mountable enclosure, the meter module is customizable, also available as a PCBA for imbedded energy measurement applications. The meter module is designed to be a low-cost customizable OEM meter. Cost reduction options such as no LEDs, no enclosure and component reduction for single-phase operation, are customizable examples that lead to a cost-competitive, high-accuracy meter for solar and energy storage applications.

Canvasser, by CutterCroix

cutter croix canvasser

With do-not-call and anti-spam laws in effect, it has made it difficult for companies to run direct marketing campaigns to reach potential customers. Canvasser, by CutterCroix is a mobile solution empowering organizations to streamline, optimize and take command of neighborhood campaigning efforts helping facilitate door-to-door prospecting, a $28.6 billion industry.

What’s cool about it?

  • Be more strategic in your campaigns and make data driven decisions using smart knocking and property data including homeowner, property and financial information.
  • Works on and off line, and is sensitive to data plans and battery consumption, to optimize its use in the field for extended periods of time.
  • Makes data collection a breeze and allows you to add custom questions to capture the data you want to collect to qualify prospects.
  • Follow-up appointments are scheduled using on-screen drag and drop calendar functions, giving visibility to other team members’ calendars.
  • Dictate notes using voice to text — spending more time knocking and less time typing.

MODsolar open platform proposal

Here’s what we know about selling solar: Inundating customers with too much complex information is intimidating. Also, a slow turnaround can make them impatient and lose interest. This is why the MODsolar platform only includes what your customers really need to know, saving resources and time (yours and theirs).

What’s cool about it?
The MODsolar platform is the solar industry’s first open platform for proposal creation, designed specifically to help regional installers close more deals. The MODsolar platform lets you create proposals in less than five minutes: Bring up a satellite image of your client’s rooftop, place the arrays, select the mounting type, compare different panels side-by-side and provide detailed computations of incentives and financing options. With a few clicks, you can print out proposals or email them straight to your clients while you’re still on the phone.

PayStand

Paystand solar payments

PayStand is a cloud payment suite that helps eliminate some of the largest financial challenges in accounts receivables and payables.

What’s cool about it?
With PayStand, solar distributors, manufacturers and installers, can take payments across multiple channels such as PayStand’s 0 percent network, as well as echeck bank transfers and wholesale ACH and card transactions all in one system. Further, PayStand works directly with invoices, automating financial processes alongside accounting software and ads powerful management and reporting capabilities.

eGauge multi-circuit monitor

egauge multi circuit monitor

The eGauge multi-circuit energy monitor combines a meter, data logger and server all into one. This powerful combination lets you record data for the lifetime of the device and analyze it with a graphical interface for free online. eGauge meters are built to be efficient, reliable and accurate and are made in the United States.

What’s cool about it?
Monitor everything: Measure up to 30 points of energy and power, including solar inverters, generators, battery backup systems and EV chargers. Record electricity with bi-directional current transformers to see which circuits are using or producing power. Track AC and DC power systems simultaneously.

Get analytical: The eGauge user interface displays graphical and numerical data for everything you measure on a web browser. You can access the interface with or without an internet connection (if you’re on the local network). Export data to spreadsheets, view custom time-frame summaries, see energy costs for each monitoring point. If you’re a true data junkie, there’s even an oscilloscope that shows voltage and amperage waveforms in real-time.

Promote your brand: The eGauge user interface has space on the home screen for a custom installer logo, which lets users advertise their installer’s brand every time they show off their solar production.

Stay informed: Send text or email alerts which trigger at user-defined thresholds. Alerts are particularly useful when offering performance guarantee contracts because they allow installers to proactively address problem systems.

PVSketch with PVCAD

pvsketch

PVSketch is used by hundreds of solar companies big and small to visualize solar designs, accurately model energy production, choose equipment, calculate customer energy savings with a detailed database of rate schedules and plop it all into a proposal.

What’s cool about it?
PVSketch is a one-stop-shop for solar project design. The hook for PVSketch is that it requires no training time and is designed for sales teams. PVSketch designs solar projects between 2 kW and 3 MW in size with accuracy in design, energy production and avoided costs calculations. Its functionality on mobile devices allows you to adjust designs on-site in real time with a customer.

PVSketch has a database of racking systems to help installers generate a bill of materials with their favorite racking hardware, modules and inverters, then move quickly on a closed sale by ordering the permit plan set or engineering diagrams delivered to their inbox. PVSketch also has a database of utility rates and tariffs for all 52 states for accurate savings calculations.

In addition, PVSketch can export project data to PVCAD. With PVCAD, engineers and drafters can build detailed permit plan sets including layouts, electrical drawings and bills of materials and quotes for projects of any size, whether rooftop, ground mount or utility scale. PVCAD quickly creates detailed drawing sets including array layouts, structural calculations, single line diagrams and everything else you need to obtain a permit and bid on any project — from a single-family home up to a multi-megawatt solar farm. Having a CAD software with a database of racking equipment allows you to generate layouts, bills of materials and wind zone calculations specific to your favorite racking manufacturer.

Tigo Energy SMART app

tigo energy smart app

Tigo’s latest creation is the SMART app, an asset management and commissioning solution that lets you design, lay out, configure, commission and monitor your PV system all from your mobile device. This app enables you to interface directly with Tigo’s Cloud Connect Advanced (CCA) software via an automatic WiFi Bluetooth connection. Select from more than 2,000 inverter types or add your own on the SMART App. For those installing a lot of Tigo systems already, you can also scan barcodes from a mobile device, troubleshoot system issues on-site and more.

What’s cool about it?
Tigo’s module-level online monitoring app provides system owners greater visibility into module-level performance. System analytics track production, send alerts and proactively suggest maintenance actions to keep systems operating at maximum efficiency. For increased safety, Tigo’s SMART website can remotely power off each module individually, eliminating high voltage for maintenance or safety purposes. The newest updates to the 3.0 version in late January 2018 include:

  • New languages: English, French, German, Chinese (Simplified), Italian, Korean and Spanish.
  • Saved searches: Terms and last position are saved when searched in System List.
  • Saved images: A system’s image are saved and reused once downloaded.
  • New metrics: Year-to-date (YTD) and Lifetime production data metrics are available.
  • WiFi connection screen: UX is more applicable to that of iOS and Android.

Solar-Log WEB Enerest

Solar-Log WEB Enerest

The Solar-Log WEB Enerest App is a new way to view your solar plant data. Powered by the Solar-Log WEB Enerest monitoring portal, this app provides a way to stay up to date on solar PV plant performance on the go, saving both time and money for solar installers and plant owners.

What’s cool about it?
The new premium features and comprehensive, interactive graphics create a convenient monitoring tool to keep plant operators fully informed about the status of their solar PV plants. A single solar plant or several plants can be presented on a dashboard with customized views. The Solar-Log WEB Enerest App can also show current and historical plant data, as well as data from connected components like consumption meters, weather sensors, heat pumps and heating rods. Actual yield can be compared to expected power production according to integrated weather data. This information allows the O&M provider to ensure maximized solar power production and protect the solar PV asset.

Swipe through energy production with daily, monthly, yearly and even lifetime graphs. Visualize home or building energy usage and energy flow to better understand how the energy is being used. Access any plant in your fleet with just one tap.

— Solar Builder magazine

SMA, Tigo offer new unit just for module-level rapid-shutdown

Tigo rapid shutdown SMA

SMA and Tigo have announced support of a new SunSpec compatible module-level rapid shutdown unit, the TS4-F (Fire Safety). The solution joins the current TS4 platform with a focus on emergency responder safety. It uses proven MLPE technology from SMA and Tigo to provide a rapid shutdown compliant platform, strictly focused on NEC compliance.

Two options

Tigo and SMA are offering two options for installation: The TS4-F is integrated into a smart module. The TS4-R-F retrofits a regular standard module with a module-level rapid shutdown device and is available through SMA.

“We have learned that commercial installers often need rapid shutdown capability but may see less need for optimization or module-level monitoring. Thus, they are looking for a cost-effective solution to provide the necessary safety functions,” said Nick Morbach, executive vice president of SMA’s Residential and Commercial Business Unit. “The new TS4-F and TS4-R-F units in combination with our SunSpec compatible string inverters will meet their needs, offering a high-quality option to comply with the NEC 2017 rapid shutdown requirements.”

The new rapid shutdown solution is a cost-effective way to fulfill UL 1741, NEC 2014, and NEC 2017 requirements – especially the stricter requirements for inside the array boundary that will be effective in January 2019. It will be compatible with the power line-based SunSpec Communication Signal for Rapid Shutdown, making it simple and robust. Using the existing DC wires between the inverter and module-level electronics as a communication channel will significantly reduce installation time.

The full system safety is enhanced by the integration with SMA’s arc fault detection (AFCI). They join SMA’s portfolio of products that comply with rapid shutdown requirements, including the Power+ Solution and the Rapid Shutdown System.

“We value SMA’s collaboration to offer this solution for residential and commercial installers,” said Zvi Alon, CEO of Tigo Energy. “We are confident that the safety features and cost-effectiveness of the TS4 platform will meet the needs of many customers.”

SMA is planning for its U.S. string inverter portfolio to be fully SunSpec Rapid Shutdown compliant in time for customers to meet the module-level rapid shutdown requirements of NEC 2017, which will become mandatory in most states by January 1, 2019.

— Solar Builder magazine

Sunrun selects SMA America as inverter supplier for residential solar projects

sma-sunrun-agreement-kv

SMA America has officially entered into a purchase agreement with Sunrun, one of the top residential solar installers in the industry, to be a key supplier for its residential PV solutions.

“We are honored and excited to enter into this long-term partnership with Sunrun,” said Pierre-Pascal Urbon, CEO of SMA Solar Technology AG. “SMA is committed to building on its reliable Sunny Boy-US line of inverters and developing the best possible technology for the residential market, which continues to be an essential component of the U.S. solar industry. We look forward to providing everything from smart inverters to home energy management and residential storage solutions for Sunrun and its customers.”

SMA will supply Sunrun with Sunny Boy-US inverters, SMA’s Power+ Solution and Sunny Boy Storage-US inverters as one of several preferred inverter vendors.

“Residential solar and storage will increasingly become a key contributor to America’s future energy system. As households adopt our Brightbox home battery service, we want to ensure they are enabled with the industry-leading and smart technology,” said Lynn Jurich, Sunrun Chief Executive Officer and co-founder. “Sunrun selected SMA as a key supplier because of its long history of reliable and high-quality products, as well as the company’s ongoing pursuit of the best and most advanced inverter technology.”

In recent months, SMA has unveiled several new developments in residential solar technology. For example, all Sunny Boy inverters are now equipped with SMA Smart Connected, a new, state-of-the-art service technology for automatic monitoring. Additionally, the Power+ Solution combines the proven Sunny Boy-US inverter with the TS4-R Module Level Power Electronics (MLPE) to create a solution that cost-effectively optimizes residential PV systems and ensures higher energy yields. And, using intelligent inverter technology with Sunny Boy-US inverters and Sunny Boy Storage inverters, SMA can create smart homes where homeowners can produce and manage their energy to match their needs. SMA has also remained a pioneer for safety and reliability, having its Sunny Boy-US line of inverters certified to the latest UL 1741 SA standard ahead of state requirements.

— Solar Builder magazine

Details on new commercial rapid shutdown solution coming from SMA, Tigo

SMA tigo

SMA and Tigo have announced a new rapid shutdown solution for the commercial market, which will be available in the second half of 2018.

“Since we introduced the Power+ Solution, we have received feedback from installers who are looking for a more cost-optimized way to achieve rapid shutdown in commercial installations,” said Nick Morbach, executive vice president of SMA’s Residential and Commercial Business Unit. “This new offering gives our commercial customers an SMA branded option to comply with the NEC 2017 rapid shutdown requirement, and gives them the specific functionality they need.”

The Ultimate SPI Showcase: Here’s what to see at Solar Power International 2017

The new rapid shutdown solution will fulfill UL 1741, NEC 2014 and NEC 2017 requirements – particularly the stricter module-level shutdown requirements that will be effective in January 2019. It will be compatible with the power line-based SunSpec Communication Signal for Rapid Shutdown, making it simple and robust. Using the existing DC wires between the inverter and module-level electronics as a communication channel will drastically reduce installation time. Mechanically, it will be compatible with Tigo’s existing TS4 platform.

The product will offer outstanding system safety thanks to full integration with SMA’s world-leading AFCI function. It joins SMA’s portfolio of products that comply with rapid shutdown requirements, including the Power+ Solution and the Rapid Shutdown System.

“We are pleased to work with SMA to develop an option that meets the needs of commercial installers,” said Zvi Alon, CEO of Tigo Energy. “The rapid shutdown solution will be compatible with a variety of modules, and we anticipate that commercial integrators will widely adopt the module-integrated platform.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Tigo solidifies rapid shutdown certified partnerships with more than 35 inverter types

tigo ts4 mlpe rapid shutdown

Tigo, pioneer of the smart modular Flex MLPE platform, has boosted its portfolio of international inverter partnerships to more than 35 inverter-types that are now Rapid Shutdown certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

SMA was first to adopt Tigo’s portfolio of Rapid Shutdown certified offerings. Additional commercial and residential inverter suppliers that also received the UL certification include:

  • ABB,
  • Fronius,
  • Ginlong Solis,
  • Kaco,
  • Sungrow,
  • Yaskawa – Solectria Solar,
  • and more.

Inverters ranging from 3kW to 30kW are certified with Tigo’s TS4 optimizers with UHD-Core technology and are shipping now. This brings the largest Rapid Shutdown solution offering with the widest adoption to market – providing Installers, EPC, and Owners the most cost-effective response to the NEC 2014 & 2017 code requirements.

“Customers looking for cost effective solutions that comply with strict safety regulations have a solution available. With Tigo’s UL Certification, our partners are exceeding these standards,” said Zvi Alon, CEO of Tigo. “We are excited to add more brands to the most diverse portfolio of approved partners in the industry.”

According to UL’s certification Rapid Shutdown Systems requirements for Distributed Generation Power System Equipment, the rapid shutdown protection is intended to reduce potential hazards and limit exposure to energized PV wiring and equipment to allow emergency first responders to perform work outside the energized area of the PV array. Also, these high reliability PV rapid shutdown systems have a higher system fault tolerance and reliability to perform their intended function under foreseeable single-point component and system failures. Only systems found to comply with these additional functional safety requirements are marked “High Reliability PV Rapid Shutdown System.”

— Solar Builder magazine