Tag: "scanifly"

02/29/20

  03:14:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1167 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting

Run on Sun Enters the Drone Era!

Just about a year ago, we really started thinking seriously about what drone technology might add to our solar installation company. The folks over at Scanifly – with their ability to take drone images and convert it into a 3-D model of a potential solar site, without needing to climb onto a roof, was really appealing. And that got us thinking of other ways a drone might be helpful - as with finished project photography, or inspecting existing systems. All of that seemed possible, but certainly there were obstacles in the path.

Well now, a year later, those obstacles have been surmounted, and Run on Sun has officially enter the Drone Era!  Here’s how we did it…

Research

We started by doing some homework.  Lots of it.  Watching videos to see what it would take to make this happen.  The list was fairly long: what drone to purchase (there are a lot of drones out there!), how do you learn to fly one (safely!), what does it take to do this legally?  And on and on.

Choosing a drone…

Drones come in all shapes and sizes - to say nothing of costs.  Last year LG sent out a professional crew to photograph one of our installations (you can see one of those photos here), and they used a $20,000 drone for the task.  Clearly that was going to be too rich for our blood!  A number of years ago, my good buddy Josh - who is always on the bleeding edge of fun tools - had let us use his drone for shooting some video of our reservoir project. Josh did all the real flying, but I did get to take the controls and found it pretty straightforward to fly.  So we had some exposure to some of the different drones out there.

Our Mavic Air, aka Oscar

Our Mavic Air, FAA # FA3NMEK4RF - aka Oscar!

In looking around, it seemed like DJI was the market leader in the types of drones that we might consider.  Ultimately, we settled on the DJI Mavic Air (in Flame Red, thank you very much!), and we purchased the “More Fly Combo” which included two extra batteries, spare props, prop guards and a carrying case.  We also shelled out for a hardshell carrying case, a landing pad, and some neutral density filters.  Total outlay was just over $1,000, and for that we bring you our Mavic Air (nicknamed Oscar by Victoria who insists that it is the only robot she loves), FAA #FA3NMEK4RF. Which brings us to the next point - flying legally!

Making it Legal

Choosing a drone was fairly easy.  Figuring out how to fly it legally, that was more challenging.  Way back in the day, I was a private pilot, but I found that I either had the time, but no money, or the money, but no time.  And living in the greater LA area meant dealing with the most complicated airspace in the country, if not the world!  So I quit flying when my daughter was born and haven’t flown since.

But, that did give me a leg up in learning how to fly legally, since I was generally familiar with the rules and regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  One of the first things you learn is that any drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds must be registered.  Our Mavic Air weighs in at just over 15 ounces, so registration was a must.  Turns out that is super easy, and can be done online for a nominal fee.  We had our local label maker create registration labels so our Mavic Air is legal everytime it flies!

Of course, getting me licensed was another matter!  I found a number of great resources online, including this great video created by Tony Northrup! Tony’s video is an hour and forty-three minutes long and I watched it multiple times.  He is clear, funny, and amazingly helpful.  I also found an online study guide (currently unavailable as they update it) here.

The test consists of 60 multiple choice questions and you need a 70% to pass.  While a significant number of the questions are really just common sense - like is the FAA going to ever suggest that having a drink of alcohol will improve your visual acuity??? - there are a number of questions that require you to parse a weather report that looks like this: KIAD 180005Z 19008KT 10SM TS SCT060CB BKN090 BKN200 31/21 A3002 RMK AO2 TSB04 FRQ LTGICCCCG SW TS SW MOV NE T03060211 (seriously!), or puzzle through a sectional chart that is one of the densest data presentations ever invented. (Don’t believe me?  You can download it here, but be patient, it will take a while!)

Suffice it to say, I took my test prep seriously, and the result was rewarding: 100%! 

Now all I needed was to start flying!

Flying for (fun) and Profit!

So now that I was a fully licensed drone pilot, it was time to start putting those skills to use.  Here are some recent drone shots and a description of their application.  (In each case, clicking on the image will give you a full-scale picture.

Completed residential solar installation   

Finished Project Photography

One of the really cool uses for the drone is to give homeowners a view of their new system that you just cannot get any other way!

This image shows a just completed tilt-up system on a flat - and very bright white roof!

Garage roof   

Residential Site Evaluation Photography

Another great reason to use the drone is to take imagery that our friends at Scanifly can turn into a 3-D model - all without actually going on the roof!  This is a 25 degree pitch garage roof - not really something you want to walk on if you don’t have to!  Guess what, thanks to the drone, everyone stayed on the ground and we got a great model to use for our proposal!

Array inspection   

Inspection Photography

The other day, one of our clients reported that a neighbor’s tree had fallen on his carport, where our solar system was installed five years ago.  When we came out, the array was completely buried under the tree.  We advised the client to get the tree removed and we would return to survey the array for damage.

Once again, we were able to examine the array closely for signs of damage, without ever breaking out a ladder!

Commercial building   

Commercial Site Evaluation Photography

One of our most anticipated uses if for modeling larger commercial roofs.  Using Scanifly, we can get shading readings for any area on the roof, letting us have very accurate production models, thereby allowing us to provide our commercial and non-profit clients with better proposals than ever before.  And when you try to distinguish yourself by the quality of the information that you can provide, this is a great leap forward!

We really think that the drone brings us a new level of safety and competence.  So when you call us for that site evaluation, don’t be surprised if we never break out the ladder, but instead let Oscar - the newest member of the Run on Sun team - do the hard work for us!

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03/31/19

  09:14:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 635 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, NABCEP

Scanifly - the Coolest Thing I've seen this Year!

Last week I spent four intense days in San Diego for the annual NABCEP Continuing Education conference.  This is a great event, with lots of super smart, experienced installers from around the country gathering to sharpen their skills and share information.  Lots of vendors are there providing workshops, and there are heavyweight course sessions like two hours on Worker Safety, and an entire day on the National Electrical Code.  (Ok, so those two are a bit like eating your vegetables as a kid - but super important information, nonetheless.)  But there was one thing that stood out for having the highest cool factor - and that was courtesy of the folks at Scanifly.  Here’s our take…

Site Evaluations Re-imagined

One of the most crucial aspects of the solar installation business is performing proper site evaluations.  Some companies brag about being able to provide you with a proposal for adding solar to your home or business without ever bothering to go there.  We categorically reject that approach - online imagery is fine, but it won’t tell you whether the grounding is complete or the service panel has so many doubles in it already that it is a fire waiting to happen.  Nor can you look a prospective client in the eye, answer their questions, and build the confidence that is so important to doing this right.

But every time you have someone go up on a roof, there is a chance for injury.  And while roof work is a necessary part of this business, going up on a dangerous roof before you have even won the job, means most of the time you are exposing your employee to risk for potentially no gain.  Moreover, it is time-consuming and error prone to be making measurements while on the roof.  Things get overlooked - like just how far is that vent from the ridge? - and often you bring the evaluation results back to the office, only to realize that you missed a key detail!  Frustrating (and expensive) if you have to go back to the site a second time.

What if you could be assured that you would gather all the detail you could possibly need the first time?  And what if you could turn that - automagically - into a 3-D model complete with all the shading on the site from both trees and other obstructions?  Now that would be cool, and that is what the folks at Scanifly have achieved.

Here’s how it works.  You take a drone (typical price range: $700-1,500) and fly it on an automatic setting that flies a complete circle around the site at a set height, and radius from the center of the building in question - typically less than 100′ AGL and maybe 75′ radius (the site obstructions will dictate most of this).  The drone will fly that course automatically, and will take pictures with a roughly 85% or so overlap.  (No drone? No problem, they can hook you up with a drone pilot to do the image gathering.)

Once you have the photos, you upload them to the Scanifly site, and after some amount of data crunching, you now have a 3-D model onto which you can add your modules.  The software understands the shading at the site and can produce production modelling data that can then be imported into a savings modeling tool like that provided by our friends at Energy Toolbase.

Even cooler, you can give your prospective client a link to the model so that they can see what their house will look like with the system installed (including the boxes on the wall!) in full 3-D!  

Now that is really cool, and no one had to go up a ladder onto a roof to do it!

We are super excited about this system and we cannot wait to try it out for ourselves.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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