If you’re like most people, you don’t wonder for a second how we design space-efficient solar arrays on super-complex roofs. But since you’re interested in solar, you’re not like most people. You’re better. Therefore this conundrum probably keeps you up at night. How on earth do we get enough of these panels to power a home, mounted securely to a high-pitched roof, possibly three stories up, with all those gables, dormers, vents, chimneys, and pigeons in the way? It boggles the mind.
Well, back in the day, we didn’t actually have to worry about this, because nobody was using rooftop solar anyway. In modern times, however, we use a variety of slick tech tools at our disposal, and it cuts hours of expert technician time out of the equation, which, of course, SAVES YOU MONEY!! It also prevents our expert technicians from being up on roofs for any longer than is needed, which, over time, saves broken legs.
A solar designer’s advance guard
First things first, we look at the house from space. Within about two seconds (literally), a skilled solar designer can give a thumbs up or down, with about 90% certainty. Here’s what we’re looking for:
- A roof that faces south, west, or east (sunlight is weak on the north face);
- Wide open spaces, devoid of chimneys, vents, and dormers;
- Absence of trees, which selfishly rob our photons and turn them into plant matter,
Basically, the bigger and brighter your roof looks from space, the better suited to solar panels.
This is something that used to really creep people out–seeing their front door on the Internet. But we’ve all gotten pretty used to it. Anyway, when using Google maps, we drop the little orange man on the sidewalk and take a quick look at the house. This can tell us pretty plainly how steep the roof is, which affects how efficient the panels will be, and how safely and easily we can install them.
This tool is totally crazy. We aren’t completely sure how it works, though we have some pretty good theories, and I’m sure the secret is divulged somewhere on the Interwebs. For a modest fee (naturally, we only pay this if the house passes the Google Maps test), we can obtain a 3D model of any house in any but the remotest areas of the country. The dimensions in these models, in our experience, are accurate to well within a 6-inch tolerance. Eagle View data tells us precisely how much space we have on a roof to place panels, and where obstructions like chimneys and drains are, that will require us to get fancy with our layout.
This is a highly ergonomic, intuitive, 3D modeling program that’s used by architects, designers, and illustrators all over the world. Once we’ve obtained a model of the house in question from Eagle View, we import it into Sketchup and look at it from all angles, as though it were a miniature model in our hands. We virtually (and by virtually, I mean “on the computer”, rather than “almost”) place panels where they would go in real life, and using a visual-spacial talent that exceeds most humans, configure the array to make the most efficient use of space. A skilled designer can fit way more panels onto a complex roof than a novice can–this is where we prove that point.
Once we know how many of which panel are going on the roof, which direction(s) the panels will face, and at what angle the roof is pitched, we plug a bunch of numbers into a Department of Energy web tool called PV Watts. This rad program runs some complex calculations, and tells us how many kilowatt hours of electricity a system is expected to generate for any given period throughout the year (not surprisingly, you make more solar energy in July than January).
Tape Measures and Calculators
At this point, the system is about 95% designed. We still need to know how much electrical wire and conduit we’ll be using, and whether unconventional roofing materials or marauding harpies are going to make things difficult for our installers. So as a final CYA, we get on location, even clambering up on the roof to make darn sure. Using time-tested tools that even your grandpa embraced, we triple-check our source data and calculations. If it all checks out, it’s go time.
Your contract with KW Solar is more than just a price quote. It’s a description of exactly what we’re going to create, and how that’s going to improve your life and the planet you live on. It tells you how your system will perform over time, and how it will benefit you economically. While most people go solar for loftier reasons than sheer economics, it’s important to us that your investment is a worthwhile one. We analyze your utility bills to know how much energy you use, and how much you should be producing on your own. We give you a clear understanding of your system’s productivity and how that’s going to affect your bottom line. And we establish how long it will take for your system to pay for itself with all the money you’ll be saving.
One tool to rule them all: The Wiz
Not sure if everyone knows and appreciates this, but we at KW Solar are a technologically-minded, forward thinking company. Also, one of our sister organizations happens to be Melaroo, the award-winning interactive design firm. We created our own tool, The Wiz, aggregating critical elements from each of our favorite design tools, to give a quicker assessment of how well suited you are to solar. It’s so smooth and simple, you can even run it yourself!
Granted, The Wiz is meant to be speedy and easy to use. There are some things that we just can’t shortcut, so before we ink a deal, our designers will meticulously undergo our time-tested due diligence process. However, The Wiz can certainly give a really good yay-or-nay on whether solar will be good for you. It might actually amaze you just how accurate it gets.
In conclusion, our design process is about establishing the proper expectations. If we can understand–and clearly communicate–what a rooftop solar system will do for you, everybody wins. Having a comprehensive knowledge of our craft, applying it accurately, and conveying that knowledge to you, is critical to our mutual success.