By Justin Lee, Senior Product Manager, EagleView
When a homeowner decides to install a photovoltaic (PV) system they’re making both a financial and emotional investment. They’re trusting that the plans they approved were accurately prepared, so there won’t be a need to make changes before the day of install, delaying completion and adding extra cost. They’re also depending on their solar contractor to provide an accurate estimate of electrical output once the system is in production, so that they’re not disappointed with actual performance or the return on their investment.
There’s no question that the residential solar market is growing, but with increased opportunity comes increased competition. To thrive in a competitive industry, solar contractors need to be able to design and install high productivity PV systems on time and within budget, satisfying customers and leading to positive referrals that help win new business. But customer satisfaction is only part of the story. Contractors also need to be constantly looking for ways to gain operational efficiencies that reduce costs so they can increase profitability and stay ahead of the competition.
At EagleView, a leading technology provider of aerial imagery and property analytics, we’ve spent a lot of time talking to solar installation sales managers, engineers, and designers in order to understand these and other challenges they face. Here are a few common issues and concerns that emerged:
- The traditional method of having an assessor climb the roof to take measurements is expensive and inefficient. One site visit can cost hundreds of dollars and take weeks to complete[i], and the data obtained is often inaccurate or incomplete. Like many industries, solar companies are looking for ways to maximize employee productivity.
- Installing a home PV system is a major investment, just under $18,0002 on average. Designers and engineers need standardized, consistent property data in order to provide homeowners with plans and designs that make them confident the energy output of the installed system will meet their expectations.
- While hardware costs have been falling, “soft costs” have risen from 58% of total system cost in 2014 to 65% today.[ii] Companies need to evaluate their processes and find way to reduce these costs and spend less time on administrative and repetitive tasks. By becoming more efficient they can shorten project times and differentiate themselves from competitors.
Drawing on these discussions, we developed our EagleView Inform™ solutions to help solar contractors succeed through both technological and business process innovation. The EagleView Essentials+ remote property report provides 3D models and roof geometry measurements for pitch, line length, azimuth, and location and size of roof obstruction—all of which can be easily imported into popular design tools. EagleView Inform Advanced provides all the data in the Essentials+ report and adds solar access values based on sophisticated shade analysis.
The benefits of EagleView Inform align to three key areas:
Increase Operational Efficiency. At a quarter of the cost of a single site visit[iii], the EagleView Inform report makes it possible to create proposals and do preliminary design work without climbing the roof to take measurements. Digital files exports for use in popular design programs, including AutoCAD, reduce time spent entering and interpreting data, and the EagleView mobile app enables teams to access property data while on-the-go. By reducing site visits and manual calculations and paperwork, average project time from estimate to completion can be lowered by more than half[iv].
Design with unprecedented accuracy. The EagleView Inform report provides precise, consistent measurements calculated from high-definition aerial imagery and computer vision. Using accurate, automated data that eliminates human error and subjectivity enables designers to get it right the first time, avoiding frustrating change orders. Our new product, EagleView Inform Advanced[v], includes solar access values derived from thousands of roof measurement points, far more than could ever be gathered manually using a hand-held shade measuring device. This shading data gives designers the best insight into where to place solar panels for maximum energy output.
Compete better and grow. The EagleView Inform report enables sales to provide production estimates without a trip to the location, so they can serve more customers. Streamlining the proposal, design, and installation processes also gives staff more time to focus on customer satisfaction and winning new business.
The game-changing yet easy to use technology of EagleView Inform represents the next phase in the evolution of remote property solutions for the solar industry. Jason Grimes, Director of Engineering at Auric Energy, a solar contractor operating in several western states, sums it up this way. “EagleView Inform Essentials+ provides so many benefits I can’t imagine doing solar installations without it.”
[i] NREL Installed Cost Benchmarks and Deployment Barriers for Residential Solar Photovoltaics with Energy Storage: Q1 2016, February 2017
[iii] NREL Installed Cost Benchmarks and Deployment Barriers for Residential Solar Photovoltaics with Energy Storage: Q1 2016, February 2017. Average cost per site visit calculated at $300 per ranges in report.
[iv] Based on proprietary EagleView research and customer interviews.
[v] Currently available in California and some mid-Atlantic states. New areas are constantly being added.
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