What Happens During a Solar Site Visit?

September 5, 2023

Solar site visits are an essential part of the pre-construction process for solar, and Exact Solar is very proud of the level of detail and diligence we put into this process, including the use of sophisticated solar drone software to ensure we get precise roof dimensions, angles, and shade readings.

A white work van with the Exact Solar logo.Site visits are conducted by experienced solar professionals who have the knowledge to properly scope solar installation projects and evaluate the site conditions including roofing or electrical concerns that might impact the project cost or viability. Therefore, they can help you understand all the factors that will impact your system’s performance and installation cost.

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. At Exact Solar, we prefer to do both. We use the best satellite imagery and remote analysis tools that are available so that our initial proposals are as close to accurate as we can be, but we then also require a site visit to validate our assumptions and calculations, look for anything that might not have been obvious remotely, and make sure we understand the roofing and electrical conditions that we’ll be installing into.

Why Do Solar Companies Do Site Visits?

Since solar installers install capacity (kw) of solar but the actual total electrical output in a year (kWh) is dependent on the specific conditions (primarily tilt angle, azimuth, and amount of shade). The measurements and assumptions made on roof dimensions and shading can really vary and impact the kWh output the system will be predicted to do in real life operation. Nearly every solar installer uses high-quality satellite imagery for remote analysis and some have access to 3D satellite data, so these tools help tremendously and narrow the range of possible kWh output, but it’s still considered the gold standard to go out to the site and get exact measurements and shade readings so the system can be modeled properly.

Additionally, it isn’t uncommon for solar installations to fail final inspection due to pre-existing electrical code violations. Many homes have main service panels that aren’t up to code, or other issues like degrading main utility electric service cable, or missing/improper grounding rods. It is not uncommon for a building or electrical inspector after an installation to fail a solar installation because of these pre-existing conditions not being code-compliant. If these are identified up-front, then surprises of extra cost can be avoided, and the customer can be educated up-front about them and the cost can be worked into the initial proposal to include corrective measures.

Technical assessments are made during site visits as well, most notably scoping out potential locations for the solar equipment including the inverter and system disconnect. This includes identifying potential interconnection points and inspecting the area between them and the proposed solar array for interferences. Finally, the solar professional conducting the site visit will note any other technical requirements of the project.

Perhaps most importantly, the site visit presents an opportunity for the homeowner to ask questions about the project design, installation methods, or anything else on their mind that they didn’t have a chance to cover with the sales engineer to that point. The site visit technician acts as an extension of the sales engineer, teaming to ensure good scoping and design on your project.

How are the roof dimensions, angles, and shade measured?

A drone flies through the air as it surveys a local home.During our site visits, we use the Autel Robotics Drone, which is recommended for solar site surveying, along with specialized software provided by Scanifly.

Below is a screenshot of how a home looks in Scanifly after we do a drone survey of the roof and get shade readings. The software builds a full-color, high definition, 3D model of the home and has shade-reading point data for each point on the roof, so we have a virtual “shade grid” showing us the % of solar access each roof point will get annually (100% means full solar access, no shade, 0% means no solar access, shaded all the time). Typically we won’t install solar on any points where the solar access is less than 60/65%, and at 70/75% it’s a judgment call depending on the project.

The Scanifly model also lets our designers lay out and mark off the required setbacks and walkways for emergency personnel that are required to do a solar project. Years ago, you were allowed to fully cover a roof surface end-to-end, but code requirements today call for exact setbacks from the ridge of the roof and certain vertical walking lanes for emergency personnel. As such, our designers mark these setbacks off automatically in the design software, and then use the available roof space for the solar layout.

Are you interested in getting a site survey done for your home?

Reach out to our team at Exact Solar today! We’ll get the drone analysis done, take shade measurements, inspect the electrical systems, review the roof condition, and share back with you a precise design for your project with very accurate cost and benefit data based on this thorough process. This will allow you to make the most educated decision possible about investing in solar, or not. We never lose sight of the fact that a solar installation is a major investment our customers make for their home or business, and we’re proud to offer such a thorough process with as much education possible, so we may help you make the best possible decision. Call our team today or get your free consultation here!

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What Happens During a Solar Site Visit?