We’re leading the way in the industry with our use of drones in solar contracting and with 3D computer modeling. While our competitors are stuck in the dark ages of creating a chicken scratch drawing of solar panels layouts or flat aerial images at best, we are utilizing sophisticated tools to create rich sales presentations, construction drawings, and marketing collateral.
These two passions and processes started as separate initiatives. We began using 3D computer modeling long ago to create three-dimensional rooftops from satellite imagery. When drones became affordable and approachable, we thought they would be a good way to highlight our work for marketing photos and videos. We had no idea that the two techniques would blend together so well. We are finding that we can capture flat drone imagery and develop 3D computer models using stunning precision that is not possible with satellite or traditional aerial imagery. Even the paid aerial imagery service we subscribe to have nowhere near the detail and precision that our drones can capture.
Aside from looking great in sales presentations, this type of solar design can precisely identify and address roof vents and other obstructions that might impact solar panel layouts. That means no surprises at the time of installation and no question about how and where the solar panels will be located.
The technology is improving at a breakneck pace. We can already let the drone [software] take aerial imagery and have it create a 3D model automatically. While that is fine for rough work and rendering richly realistic images, it isn’t the best for precision engineering. Precise straight lines and right angles are required to line up solar panels and make drawings easily editable as projects take shape.
The video below shows a 3D computer model of a house that was created from a 2D drone image shot from 200 feet above ground level. Believe it or not, it is not a drone video onto which we superimposed solar panels. It’s a 2D image popped up into 3D with image textures applied to the 3D surfaces. Then we placed solar panels as needed onto the 3D surfaces, taking into account obstructions. Finally, we used the 3D computer model to render a video animation from various viewpoints in the model. This method removes distortion and angular skew from traditional imagery sources. We can also compare multiple images to confirm measurements and locate obstructions.
This technique comes in very handy where there is no commercially available aerial imagery. While free services like Google Maps offer great imagery and paid services offer more up to date imagery, the Southwest Florida area is growing very fast. There is a huge amount of new home development and many of our clients live in these new homes. Obtaining imagery for HOA architectural review, permitting, and sales presentations are often impossible without the use of drones.
As the only solar company in town currently with a FAA licensed commercial drone pilot on staff, we have a huge advantage. Flying drones for commercial use without a pilot’s license is unlawful and a serious offense, not to mention dangerous. We take safety and privacy very seriously and are a responsible member of the commercial drone (UAS) community.
The video above happens to be created from drone images taken in Babcock Ranch, which is billed as “The First Solar Powered Town in the US.” The area is exploding with new home construction, but up-to-date aerial imagery and even street maps are hard to come by. Our solution works perfectly for our needs and those of our clients and the HOA. In this case we needed both a rendering of the home with solar panels for the architectural review committee and for the Charlotte County permitting process.
We can’t wait to see what comes next in technology that can help us as a solar contractor. We are already looking at infrared drone cameras that can pinpoint issues with solar arrays. The day when automatic software created 3D models will be precise and cost-effective enough for our use is right around the corner. Maybe we will see solar panel cleaning robots. And 3D printed parts will surely impact this and every industry. It’s exciting, and you can count on us to stay on the forefront of technology.
And here is the actual installation photo!