We see more and more automation and use of software in the solar industry. Nowadays you can design a solar panel installation plan on an aerial photo with various software packages, and then offer a complete solar system within minutes. And that’s good news. The whole process of solar system becomes more efficient and more competitively priced, while the installer maintains a healthy profit margin. But how reliable are these system design made by design software? And what are the consequences if the system design does not fit in practice?

Frustrations when a system design does not fit in practice

More and more installers use software to design solar systems. This is more efficient, but also causes problems. Imagine: you have created an design using software, sent a quote to the customer, and that has been agreed upon. With a great deal of enthusiasm, the installation team arrives at the customer. But only to find ten out of fifteen panels fit. What now? Both you and your customer will be frustrated. Are you cancelling the installation? Or only installing ten panels at a discount? There’s no need to explain this is going to impact your reputation and drive up the costs.

Why a system design does not fit per se

Why does this regularly go wrong in software? This has to do with two things: (1) the perspective of the aerial photo and (2) the determination of the roof angle.

An aerial photo is almost always up to scale, but unfortunately never taken exactly right from above. When a plane flies over, a picture is taken every few hundred meters. Afterwards, these photos are stuck together to form one whole. Every aerial photo, and even every part of it, therefore has a different perspective. The further you come to the edge of the picture, the more skewed the view is. Because most software packages do not take this into account, things often go wrong here. Even if you can manually adjust the skew of the panels, this often does not ensure the right perspective is taken into account! If you take every photo as if it is straight from the top, it won’t work at all. With all its consequences…

An airplane takes a photo of the surroundings from one point, which means that the perspective differs in different directions

In practice: every red dot is an actual aerial photo. The blue lines indicate the aerial limits. If we zoom in on a building on the edge of such a border, we see a highly distorted perspective.

The second thing that often goes wrong, is the determination of the roof angle. This is crucial when designing a system up to scale. The solar panels that you digitally put onto the roof must be sized at the same roof angle as the roof actually has. Did you add the wrong roof angle? Things will go utterly wrong. Unfortunately, determining the roof angle in most software packages is cumbersome. For example, a street view photo must be used. This takes time and, moreover, street view is not always available.

How Solar Monkey ensures that your solar system design always fits in practice

Exactly how we do it remains a secret, but we have developed a solution with a combination of aerial photos, 3D elevation data, and smart math geeks. We ensure that the perspective of the picture is calculated precisely, and the panels are scaled accordingly. Besides, the roof angle is calculated automatically. Below two examples from Solar Monkey:

In this case, you see that the sidewall is visible so you immediately recognize that the photo was taken at a large angle. The panels must be fitted onto the building in the right perspective. As soon as you turn the panels in Solar Monkey one way, they immediately jump into the proper perspective on the roof. Simple and effective.

This second case is somewhat more insidious. The photo was taken from right over the building from the north. This makes it seem as if the north side of the roof is much larger than the south side, while in reality, this is not the case. Without correct adjustment, you would miss this. In Solar Monkey, the scale of the panels adjusts automatically, and you can see that on both roof surfaces four panels fit from top to bottom. Perfect!

And that roof angle? In most cases, this is automatically determined for you based on the 3D height data. That way, you can get started right away. We make it as easy as possible, because we know how important it is that you can fully trust the software.

We launched this functionality in January 2018. What impact did this have on our customers? We asked Bart Boelens from ESS zonnepanelen, who also has experience with other design software: “Before, it very often happened that I made a system design, that turned out not to fit in practice. This was incredibly annoying, both for the customer and for myself! Now we can trust the designs we make, so we can send out our quotes with confidence.”

Not yet a Solar Monkey customer? Do you want to see this with your own eyes? Request your free demo below!

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Jan Pieter, Chief Monkey

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