Solar Power World: Solar tech flies high!

As in all industries, the best technology emerges as improved ways of doing tried-and-true processes. Trackers allow panels to follow the sun and generate more power. Microinverters boost system performance and pinpoint problems.

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These technologies have pushed the solar industry into the future. Now solar software is getting in on the action by providing a faster, more accurate way to perform on-site assessments.

Drone-assisted 3D mapping just may be the next generation of solar assessment, and software developer Scanifly is looking to lead the industry into new, more accurately mapped territory.

This January, Scanifly will release drone hardware and 3D mapping software to U.S. solar installers interested in solving two main problems: inefficient, inaccurate on-site assessments and lengthy project timelines.

The on-site assessment process has changed little since the solar industry’s inception. Scanifly CEO and founder John Novak said a thorough residential site assessment can take about 20 minutes per roof, while a commercial site assessment can take a few days. Both require someone to climb onto a roof to measure obstructions and use (what Novak calls) monopolized and outdated shading analysis tools. Then the information has to be plotted to make readable project maps. Not only can this be time consuming, but measurements may not be accurate. In the age of technology, isn’t there an easier way?

Novak has authority on this topic. He worked as a solar system designer for five years at multiple companies, and he noticed that the on-site assessment process is the same throughout the entire industry.

  This before shot shows the point cloud data Scanifly acquired in the field using Flydar.

This before shot shows the point cloud data Scanifly acquired in the field using Flydar.

  This photo shows the final 3D model processed through Scanifly3D.

This photo shows the final 3D model processed through Scanifly3D.

“I used Pictometry and other things and noticed it’s an inefficient process and very outdated,” he said. “It’s error-prone. Guarantees can be off. I noticed this problem, so I got interested in drones and 3D mapping.”

Scanifly’s Flydar hardware (installed onto drones) uses LiDAR—a surveying method that uses depth sensors, lasers and high-resolution cameras to compile very accurate maps. These plot points are shared with Scanifly3D software to quickly 3D-map properties for site assessment.

Novak described the process as this: “A solar specialist opens the Scanifly app and identifies the area they want 3D-mapped. The drone flies and lands on its own, and it uploads the data to our Cloud. It generates very accurate high-resolution, 3D models from that data acquisition on site. We developed web-based 3D modeling software that allows the user to add panels to the roof, do a shading analysis, export to AutoCAD. It’s a full-scale solar system site assessment and design suite.”

By using drones and Scanifly3D software, multiple site visits aren’t needed to get additional measurements, and no one has to climb onto a roof. For those used to designing with just photographs and shade analysis results, imagery from LiDAR makes everything easier.

Flydar’s sensors and camera provide exceptional detail for extremely accurate 3D modeling. It can recognize and map full trees, small vent pipes and HVAC systems. No guesswork or tape-measurements needed. And the accompanying Scanifly3D software makes designing virtual replicas of the solar roof too easy, and shared reports can be generated in seconds. Novak notes that the software can work with small quadcopters and photogrammetry, but Flydar provides the best data possible.

3D mapping through drones is the way of the future, and Scanifly wants to be the leader on making the process quicker and simpler.

“In the future, everyone is going to have their own 3D mapping drone on their engineering team,” Novak said.