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Performing A Solar Site Survey

Updated: Apr 20


solar site survey

Conducting a solar site assessment is an important step in the design and sales process. It involves going to a property to gather information critical for creating an accurate proposal and design for a solar panel system. However, an on-site solar site survey can be time-intensive.


Therefore, saving time by prequalifying leads before completing a solar site survey to make effective use of your time. An on-site survey is only worthwhile for strong leads who are likely to install a solar system or have already signed a contract. So, before you head out, we recommend giving prospects some ballpark price information and ensuring they understand the basics of solar power. For example, some potential customers might not understand that they need a solar battery to have electricity during a power outage.


You can also use satellite images or solar design software to conduct a solar feasibility analysis before visiting the property. If the site has poor solar exposure, it might not be worth the visit. Likewise, the feasibility analysis can help flag issues for you to examine onsite.


Some solar companies have transitioned to conducting only remote site surveys and relying exclusively on aerial images, solar design software, online data, and photos and information from the home or business owner. Some solar contractors find this saves time and streamlines the sales process, while others feel this creates more headaches when the installation process begins. Some solar companies are using drones to quickly gather data on solar site surveys. Whatever you prefer, it’s important to understand what goes into a solar site survey.


What Is A Solar Site Survey?


A solar site survey is an opportunity to inspect a prospective customer’s property before designing and installing a photovoltaic system. It is also a chance to establish rapport with them, so it’s helpful to be punctual, professional, and prepared.


The site survey is your opportunity to gather all the information essential for the solar PV system design, permitting, and interconnection process. You will inspect the roof and electrical panel, look for trees and buildings shading the roof, and review your client’s historical electricity use.


Your solar design software might have features that can assist you, such as providing a shade analysis of the roof or calculating the available roof space for PV modules. However, you can review this information for accuracy on your site visit. Did the homeowner just install numerous skylights that don’t appear on the aerial images? Is the roof on its last leg? Did a neighbor to the south just chop down a huge pine tree, boosting the solar exposure? These are all valuable questions to ask when on site.


During the site assessment, you will also want to gather any information the installation crew will need before they start. For example, will running the conduit require a unique approach or special tools?


How to Conduct A Solar Site Survey


During the site panel survey, you will need to complete the following activities.

  • Determine if the home or business will need an electric panel upgrade: Most houses require at least a 200-amp service, but many older homes do not have this. For businesses, the needs vary widely, depending on their electrical system and loads.

  • Inspect the roof condition: Ideally, you want to install a solar energy system on a relatively new roof that won’t need to be replaced in the next few years. It is also helpful to determine the roof type to create a plan for mounting the solar modules. Wood and slate roofs can be especially challenging while standing seam metal roofs and cement roof tile roofs can be the easiest.

  • Determine if there is excessive shading: Historically, solar contractors used tools such as the Solar Pathfinder to determine if there was too much shade, but now many installers rely on solar design software. If the roof is too shaded, the solar array won’t produce sufficient electricity. Sometimes, the homeowner or business is willing to trim or possibly remove trees to improve the solar resource. If the house roof is too shaded, determine if there is an alternative place to mount the panels, such as a garage roof or ground mount.

  • Look for roof obstruction: If the home has chimneys, skylights, vents, HVAC equipment, or mechanical systems, you will need to design the solar panel layout around them. This will reduce the available space for modules, reducing the size and potential output of the solar power system.

  • Take roof measurements: You can either do this manually or use solar design software with this feature. The measurements will be used to calculate the available space for solar panels and the roof pitch.

  • Choose the placement of the inverter and conduit run: The solar inverter should be located out of direct sunlight and in a dry location. Depending on the layout, the conduit can go on the exterior or interior of the home or business.

  • Consider additional energy-efficiency recommendations: Some solar companies also give suggestions for reducing energy use. Giving helpful recommendations can be an excellent way to provide a great customer experience.

  • Get to know your potential client: A critical aspect of a solar PV site survey is establishing rapport with the customer and earning their trust. It's a good opportunity to learn about what is important to them, their design preferences, and concerns.


Solar Site Survey Checklist


Following a solar site survey checklist can be highly helpful, as it ensures a thorough and systematic evaluation of your potential solar installation site. These are the critical steps to complete during your site visit. Remember to take lots of photos, especially on your first site surveys, so you can refer to them later if you have questions.


1. Inspect the main service panel

Determine if the home or business needs an upgrade of the electrical service panel.

  • Is there enough space for a solar circuit?

  • Is there sufficient amperage for the home or business with the current electrical panel?

  • Ask the home or business owner if their power needs will change soon. Are they planning on getting an EV and adding a charger, or switching to electric appliances such as a dryer, water heater, or range in the near future?

  • Consider if the electric panel is safe or could potentially cause a fire in the home.

2. Document shading and other obstructions

Determine if the roof has an excessive amount of shade and ways to mitigate it.

  • Assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere, look on the south, west, and east sides of the roof for current or future obstructions.

  • Remember that small trees will grow and could eventually shade the roof during the system's lifespan.

  • Consider who owns trees shading the roof and if merely trimming trees would greatly improve solar exposure.

3. Determine the condition of the roof

Find out the roof’s age and if it currently needs any repairs.

  • The type of roof dictates what to look for, but damaged or missing roof shingles, cracking, damaged flashing, signs of pooling, and blockages in the downspouts are all signs of an aging roof.

  • Ask the home or business owner if there have been any roof leaks or, if possible, look in the attic for signs of water damage.

4. Consider the roof dimensions, pitch, and rafter spacing

This step can be done manually or using solar design software.

  • If the roof is really challenging or steep, you might add a bit to the cost to account for the additional installation time. Installers will need to be more cautious when working on steep or difficult roofs, thus slowing down installation a bit.

  • Gathering structural information about the roof, such as rafter size and spacing, is helpful when installing the solar mounting system and determining if the roof is structurally sound.

5. Ask the homeowner for additional information

It’s usually easiest to get needed information you haven’t already gathered while onsite.

  • Find out the age of the roof.

  • Get a copy of a year or more of electricity bills if needed to calculate the home’s historical energy use.

  • Ask about any other miscellaneous items, such as the placement of the inverter and conduit.


On-site Vs. Remove Solar Site Surveys

When deciding between an onsite solar survey and a remote one, it is essential to consider the advantages and drawbacks of each approach. While onsite solar surveys offer detailed and accurate information about the specific property, remote surveys provide a cost-effective and time-efficient alternative with access to high-resolution imagery.


On-site Solar Surveys

Pros:

  • Provides detailed and accurate information about the specific property and surrounding areas.

  • Allows for inspections of the property to identify any constraints or obstacles to solar panel installation.

  • Enables direct communication with the property owner and other stakeholders.

  • Allows surveyors to clarify doubts and answer questions directly.


Cons:

  • Requires more time, travel expenses, and manpower to complete.

  • May be affected by bad weather or other site-related issues.

  • Can be intrusive and require the owner's consent to access the property.


Remote Solar Site Survey

Pros:

  • Offers a more cost-effective and time-efficient alternative to site visits if satellite or drone imagery is available.

  • Solar installers can have faster results.

  • Can be useful in areas with difficult site access for onsite surveys.


Cons:

  • May not provide detailed and accurate information about the property and surrounding areas.

  • Can miss identifying local conditions or potential issues affecting installation cost and timeline.

  • Can be affected by inclement weather or limitations inherent to remote sensing technology.

  • Lack of direct communication with stakeholders.

Drones for Solar Site Surveys


Drones are utilized in solar site surveys to streamline the surveying process and improve efficiency in assessing potential areas for solar installation. By using drone technology, solar professionals can conduct a comprehensive survey in a much shorter time compared to traditional manual methods. Drones equipped with advanced cameras can capture dozens of ultra-high-resolution images of rooftops during the survey, which are then used to extract measurements, create detailed 3D models, and analyze shading for solar panel placement.


drone solar site survey

Drones are used in solar site surveys to collect quick and accurate data, leading to faster project assessment and planning. Depending on factors like roof size, drones can complete surveys in as little as 35 minutes, offering a more efficient alternative to time-consuming manual surveys. By creating flight plans using specialized apps before launching the drone, surveyors can outline the roof and approve auto-generated plans in just minutes.


PV Design Software for Solar Site Surveys


Solar design software can greatly assist with solar site surveys by providing various tools and capabilities to streamline the process. These software applications offer features such as 3D modeling, shading analysis, and accurate energy production estimations, among others.


Here are a few ways in which solar design software can help with solar site surveys:


Accurate 3D Modeling: Software tools enable the creation of detailed 3D models of the site, including the

roof, surrounding structures, and obstructions. This allows for accurate simulations and assessments of shading impacts throughout the day and year.


Shading Analysis: Solar design software utilizes shading analysis tools to determine the potential shading impacts on the solar panels. By considering the sun's path, tree locations, and other structures, these tools can help identify areas of potential shading and optimize the panel placement accordingly.


Energy Production Estimations: Solar design software factors in various variables such as system size, location, orientation, shading, and panel efficiency to provide accurate energy production estimations. This enables users to assess the potential solar energy generation and make informed decisions for optimal system design and financial projections.


Custom System Design and Layout: Solar design software allows users to customize system design and layout based on specific site constraints, energy demands, and regulatory requirements. By considering roof dimensions, available space, and other factors, the software assists in the optimal placement and configuration of solar panels to maximize energy production.


Report Generation: Solar design software can generate detailed reports that include system specifications, energy production estimates, financial analysis, and other relevant information required for the solar installation process.


Advanced Imaging, Mapping and Remote Sensing


Technology advancements in imaging and mapping tools, such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), enable precise location measurements and mapping of the site. LiDAR technology uses laser beams to create detailed 3D models and accurately measure distances, elevations, and obstructions on the site. These measurements enhance the accuracy of shading analysis and system design when completing a solar panel survey.


Utilizing satellite imagery and geographic information system (GIS) data, solar design software can access high-resolution aerial imagery and topographic data to assess potential installation sites. This information provides valuable insights into factors like slope, orientation, shading, and nearby obstructions, aiding in the evaluation of the site's solar potential.


Tips For A Successful Solar Site Survey


During a site survey, identify anything that could be a show-stopper for the project or add to the cost of the system. Conducting your first site assessments is tricky but will become easier over time.


Come prepared for the site assessment with everything you need, including a ladder, measurement tools, a cell phone or camera, a pen and clipboard, and a brochure or sales materials. When in doubt, take lots of photos you can refer to later. This helps avoid contacting the potential customer repeatedly with follow-up questions or needing to schedule another site visit.


Be aware of local codes and other restrictions that may limit your solar design freedom. For example, if the property is historical, you might not be able to mount the solar panels so they are visible from the front of the home. If they live in an area with a homeowners' association (HOA), there may be an approval process for installing solar panels.


FAQs about Solar Site Surveys

Read on to get answers to your questions about solar surveys.


Do solar companies charge for conducting a solar site survey?

Solar installers may charge to complete a solar site survey. The cost of a site survey can vary depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the project, location, or the specific service provider. It is common for solar installers to collect crucial information during a site survey to design an optimal solar system. Onsite site surveys, where a surveyor physically visits the location, may involve additional costs compared to remote survey tools like aerial images. The best way to determine if there are any charges for a solar site survey is to contact specific solar companies or installers and inquire about their pricing and services.


Do I need to consider permitting and zoning requirements during a solar site survey?

Yes, local regulations play a pivotal role in solar installations. Solar zoning codes, building permits, and environmental considerations vary by location. A comprehensive understanding of these factors during the site survey ensures compliance, streamlines the permitting process, and facilitates a smooth transition from assessment to the successful installation of solar panels.


GreenLancer specializes in overcoming solar permitting issues. Our fulfillment partners have worked with most jurisdictions across the United States and understand location-specific requirements.


Solar Site Surveys Can Be Value To Any Solar Project


Although many solar companies have moved to fully remote solar site surveys, an on-site solar survey can still be very useful and improve the customer experience. It’s an excellent opportunity to create rapport with the potential customer and identify things that could increase the project cost or installation time, which can prevent you from underbidding or causing delays for the solar installers.


Want to streamline your solar projects? Work with GreenLancer solar plan sets, solar engineering reviews, and PE stamps. Create a free account or complete the form below to learn more.



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