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  • Sarah Lozanova

How To Choose Solar Panel Design Software



The costs of solar panels and equipment have plummeted in the last decade, helping to make solar energy mainstream. Unfortunately, soft costs, such as customer acquisition, permitting, siting, design, installation and financing, haven’t fallen as quickly. As the solar industry expands and matures, many solar companies are streamlining their operations.


Reducing soft costs through integrating technology into core business practices is a way to maintain profitability and improve accuracy while reducing total solar system costs. Different types of solar software fulfill various needs, including customer identification, customer relationship management (CRM), proposal generation and photovoltaic system design, financing and risk management, and operations and energy management. Adding greater automation to the process, from customer acquisition through solar PV system maintenance, can help solar providers scale up their operations. Using effective solar design software is an excellent addition to that workflow.


Why Use Solar Design Software For PV Systems?

This software helps automate the design process and makes it easier to create accurate solar system sales proposals for potential customers. Many software solutions include layout and performance modeling while saving time and reducing costs. It makes it faster and easier for salespeople, designers, and engineers to create comprehensive PV systems designs. Then, meticulous designs aid PV project management and help ensure a seamless solar installation process. Solar PV design software is helpful at any level, from small residential installers to utility-scale solar contractors.


Choosing A Solar Design Software: What To Look For

With numerous software platforms available to installers and contractors, it is essential to understand the various features. Some software offers a free trial or a one-month subscription, allowing new users to try it out before making a big commitment. Keep in mind that the capabilities and scope of solar design software vary by the product.


For example, many do not have CRM capabilities and require a separate CRM platform. Some solar design software might integrate seamlessly with other software, while some may not. Examining the big picture and how various platforms integrate is essential when considering the job from start to finish. In addition to functionality, aesthetics are important when generating proposals for potential new clients. Some software may prepare more attractive proposals or allow more branding opportunities to set your company apart.


Project Creation

Most software platforms will require users to input the proposed project address and historic electricity bill data. Most solar design software uses satellite data and even LiDAR data to conduct a solar feasibility analysis. Sometimes, designers can add or remove trees and other obstructions, adjust solar production estimates, and create 3D models of potential solar projects.


Photovoltaic Design Options

Most design software allows solar professionals to change the solar panel angle, panel orientation, row spacing, and azimuth. Many platforms allow for planning around roof obstructions like HVAC equipment, green roofs, and skylights and contain a database of different PV modules, inverters and racking systems.


Consulting

Many solar professionals provide consulting services in addition to design plans. Solar design software allows consultants to provide reports, single-line diagrams, 2D and 3D-CAD images for layouts and blueprints. Many PV design software options include energy production, payback estimates and financing options.


Reporting And Metrics

Most design software offers various reports and calculations after users have entered the required information. Many platforms can provide estimated cumulative cash flows, a financial analysis, solar PV system performance, shade analysis, and financing options, including leases, loans and power purchase agreements (PPAs). Reports often include graphs, diagrams and spreadsheets.


Pricing Options

Most platforms use a software as a service (SaaS) model and are available for a monthly fee. Many options charge a fee per user and include a discount with an annual or customized plan. Some software platforms offer a free trial period, and others provide premium features at a higher cost. Occasionally, software is available for purchase and has an annual maintenance fee.


Solar PV Design Software Options

There are numerous solar design software platforms available. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it examines several of the best products on the market.


Aurora Solar

Application: Residential and commercial solar PV contractors


Aurora Solar allows users to conduct a solar shading analysis, design solar arrays, forecast electricity generation, estimate power bill savings, add energy storage capabilities, explore financing options, and create solar system proposals. Users can input or upload energy consumption data and utilize data sets, including LiDAR data, to analyze solar energy potential.


Aurora solar design software is known for being relatively easy to learn and user-friendly. It uses a Saas model and offers basic, premium and customized pricing plans starting at $135 monthly per user.



HelioScope

Application: Residential and commercial solar PV contractors


This web-based PV system design software provides CAD-like tools that are customized for the solar industry. Helioscope is interactive and makes it easy to run various simulations, comparing the results. The software can create complete single-line diagrams and solar proposals, assisting in the sales process.


Because it is cloud-based, it is easy to collaborate with subcontractors and manufacturers. Helioscope also offers direct integration with Energy Toolbase, a software for project modeling and asset monitoring. HelioScope offers monthly and annual plans starting at $79 a month per user and offers discounts for more than three users.


HOMER

Application: Micro-grid and distributed generation power system design and optimization


This software was initially created by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and licensed to HOMER Energy (Hybrid Optimization of Multiple Energy Resources). HOMER Pro specializes in optimizing hybrid renewable microgrids in all sectors, including villages, military bases, and island grids. It creates a simulation model with various equipment in a clean energy microgrid for up to a year. Pricing starts at $42 a month for an annual plan, and the advanced off-grid package begins at $83 a month.



PVSketch And PVCAD by PVComplete

Application: Residential and commercial solar PV contractors and EPCs


PVComplete’s PVSketch is a web app created as a sales tool that allows multiple array layouts. The designs can then be exported to PVCAD, the first and only CAD for solar, and modeling in AutoCAD allows for extreme accuracy. This software is powered by Autodesk technology and utilizes NREL’s PVWatts for energy production modeling. PVComplete uses an ever-expanding database of solar PV modules, inverters, and racking systems, saves time, and prevents costly errors. Users can generate single-line diagrams and complete electrical calculations with ease. PVSketch starts at $0 a month and goes up to $200 for unlimited sketches. The AutoCAD plugin starts at $150 and the PVCAD bundle at $195, with discounts for an annual agreement.


Solargraf

Application: Residential and commercial solar PV contractors


This web-based solar design tool has a helpful CAD interface. Solargraf allows customized access for different users, depending on their role and level in the organization. The dashboard shows all active projects, assisting in project management. Designers can use Google Sunroof data to conduct a shade analysis and create accurate proposals. Plans start at $229 per month for two users, with discounts available for annual agreements.


The Choice Is Yours

If a solar company is just adopting a solar design software for the first time or switching to a better match, it can be pivotal for the company. An effective platform can help ease workflow between different team members and assist in the sales process. A roofing design feature can allow salespeople to show potential customers how panels will look on their roof and their orientation. The ability to generate a customized quote during a site evaluation could help close the deal faster.


GreenLancer can help you meet your design needs – fill out the contact form to speak with a rep today.