Site technicians serve an integral role in any renewable energy project. Acting as lone workers, these individuals collect structural, electrical, and mechanical information, locate equipment, and record roof measurements. In the solar world, this information is key to drafting an accurate and referenceable roof report – with downstream impacts on engineers and designers. In many ways, these technicians set the project’s tone for productivity, and are responsible for ensuring a seamless customer experience as one of the client’s first points of contact. But despite their importance, the job is inherently time-consuming. Establishing multiple anchor points for fall protection, manually recording measurements, and submitting this information up the chain of command can take weeks, greatly lengthening the installation process. Luckily, advancements in drone technology, coupled with an internal software suite, expedite these long-held practices and improve customer relations in a matter of days. Let’s take a look at how solar organizations ensure the perfect customer experience through drone utilization below.
Comprehensive & Reliable Data Collection
From point of sale to installation and completion, site surveys provide a critical service to both customers and employees. These records of comprehensive data collection provide quantifiable deliverables to designers, leading to clear proposals of panel layouts. But because technicians operate largely on their own, the industry is accident-prone with multilayered safety risks. To further conceptualize this information, remember that these workers are frequently on two-story roofs, with 30+ degree pitches. On a summer day, this can be over 120 degrees Fahrenheit – and that’s not even including the required safety gear. Understandably, there has to be a better way.
Drone-powered roof reports and aerial surveys do more with less. In order to best balance productivity, safety, and efficiency, these tools automate the inspection process, and in most cases, keep site technicians off of the roof altogether. By integrating with pre-established internal platforms, software like DroneDeploy serves as a single source of truth for all parties. With more data and new skills at the technician’s disposal, they’re able to visit more customers each day, and reduce overall revisits for inaccurate measurements.
Sunrun’s Solar Installation Workflow
To limit roof visits and drastically reduce the number of people needed on-site, Sunrun created an end-to-end drone workflow built for OSHA compliance. As they told us at DroneDeploy Conference 2021, map plans are now created in-app before a technician even arrives on-site. From here, they can adjust the points on the flight plan, altitude, etc. once they’ve received FAA clearance. After the orthomosaic is processed, the map is then translated into AutoCAD, for both 2D and 3D modeling. Because this imagery measures all site facets at once, every stakeholder sees the full picture, not just what a technician has manually measured. “DroneDeploy ended up being our solution – it hit all of our points, and we couldn’t be happier,” Paul Helm, Project Manager of Site Survey at Sunrun stated during their interactive breakout session.
The results are clear – drone technology reduces human error in solar installation, and provides more accurate data than ever before. By designing and relying on this fully automated workflow, renewable energy organizations can account for historic productivity risks, all while keeping workers safe. In Sunrun’s case, they’ve been able to reduce their overall cycle time, and design intelligent appointment durations based on factors such as site and airspace characteristics. As of today, the company’s roof surveys take on average just 15 minutes.