Best PV System Design Software for Your Solar Business
Best PV System Design Software for Your Solar Business
Designing a solar photovoltaic system requires accurately matching various components of the solar PV system to achieve optimal power generation. The resulting PV system needs to effectively capture as much of the solar irradiance as possible for that particular location.
This is a complex task which requires expertise and experience to create the best configuration of the products that meet the customer’s price expectations. In order for a solar installation business to thrive, this process needs to be completed quickly and with high levels of accuracy & reliability.
PV simulation software is the beginning of this process, and estimating the energy production of a solar PV system is the most important function that a solar PV design tool & simulation software provides.
Components of Great Solar Software
Satellite Images & GIS
As the solar industry has evolved from innovators to early adopters to early majority, the sophistication of solar developers, installers and other solar industry participants have also evolved. This has spurred the development of solar PV design software that prioritizes speed over absolute accuracy to create sales proposals for customers.
The best solar design software relies on satellite images, computer vision and geographic information (GIS) for a given project area for calculating photovoltaic system performance, shading analysis and energy production modeling. The evolving priorities for solar design have changed the landscape of solar software, which makes it important for solar PV system installers to regularly review the available tools and choose the right solar design tools for the job.
Accurate App & Simulation Technology
The best solar PV design tools will have accurate simulation technology. All customers will demand a certain level of accuracy, but commercial solar customers expect high levels of accuracy in the system design and solar developers are contractually required to meet performance targets.
A related demand is that solar PV design and sales proposals for residential customers need to be delivered quickly and must accurately estimate the energy generation, energy consumption and model the financial returns. This is all critical to the sales process.
The software needs to seamlessly integrate several inputs coming together to create the proposal.
Top Options in PV System Design Software
Here is a list of the best solar PV design software & PV simulation software that will increase sales and/or improve operational efficiency.
Aurora Solar is an industry-leading solar PV design and sales software that is packed with many necessary features for solar installers and developers.
- The roof design and solar panel placement process is exemplary with support from 3D Image LIDAR providing accuracy and speed. Fitting the roof design to LIDAR is an advanced feature.
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has validated the accuracy of their shade reports & analysis and energy generation/consumption modeling.
- They have proven their ability to chart accurately the various losses from cell – inverter – meter and visualize them in an effective waterfall chart that makes it easy to grasp.
- Customizable sales proposal templates that make effective use of the design, energy modeling and financial estimation to communicate with customers about their proposed solution.
- Ability to deliver commercial solar designs and energy simulations with great accuracy, with features to provide financial estimation of various options including PPAs and Lease.
- Generate and export CAD level diagrams that can be used for further design or permitting requirements.
Fully integrated solar design and project management platform that is scalable from small installer to national operations.
- Integrated lead generation ability with integrated APIs for lead generation and customer engagement services.
- High quality aerial images from NearMaps, where available, are provided as a standard service.
- Virtual customer assisted site assessment, quick shading and auto detection of pitch for quickly determining all on site parameters.
- Customizable proposal integrated with financing options, which can then provide permitting ready documentation and eSignature of solar contract by the customer.
- Cloud-based, mobile and tablet friendly software that provides great operational flexibility.
OpenSolar is a software platform that packs in a lot of features for a solution that is available for free. A white label platform that can be used by any size of solar installer or developer to improve their business and deliver better results to their customers.
- The solar touch& 3D interface is good but with some improvements it could be great and in time it certainly will be.
- The platform provides a solution for a wide variety of applications in solar from residential & commercial to battery storage.
- Mobile & Tablet apps offer a flexibility that allows for operations in the office and the field to be conducted in the same platform.
- Fully integrated CRM with in app capability to communicate with customers, deliver proposals & quotations and customer’s can purchase and accept contracts with one-click and eSignatures.
- Several free and paid integrations available from service providers, OEMs and Financial companies.
A modular software that can provide an all inclusive solution for solar installers. The platform is split into configuration & quotation of PV systems, CRM and Project Management & Installation.
- Works well with other necessary business and solar specialized service providers making it a very useful platform.
- Pay for what you need approach recognizes that the solar business sector has a diverse business models and service providers in the value chain.
- Centralized organizational control from a single platform.
- Each module is fully functional, well developed and can perform as independent software.
- A solution that can be expanded for large developers, financial companies and OEMs.
- Compatibility with solutions such as Zapier allows more software that can be configured to work with Solar Nexus and this improves the value.
Sighten is a software that delivers on its ability to reduce the number of bottlenecks in the full cycle from customer prospecting all the way through to installation and commissioning.
- Accelerate the sales process with accurate solar design that leads to sales proposals and communications methodology that makes use of proven sales closure techniques, guaranteed to improve sales.
- Integrated financing solutions and approval processes furthering the reduction in bottlenecks.
- Single platform eSignature of solar contracts and providing customer’s ability to track work progress.
- Simple workflow with single platform from CRM to Installation & Commissioning
- Software solutions for channel management for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and financial companies.
Helioscope is an amazing solar design software package. If you are looking for up-to-date software to replace PVSyst, look no further. However, the functionality is limited to solar energy modeling and therefore will need to be used with other software for business operations.
- Easy to use design tool that produces 3D design of the solar PV systems.
- Precise yet simple design process that creates modeling and analysis of shading.
- Bankable energy simulations with clear visual representation of losses in the PV system
- Cloud based web application that is device agnostic
- Compatible with several image sources, PAN files for inputs and export tool for shading analysis, CAD drawings and PDF files.
- Financial modeling and sales proposals are currently in limited access beta testing.
- Reliable support & training material with in depth and open, thus verifiable, explanation of simulation methodology.
Other Solar Software
PVSyst is an industry stalwart. PVSyst’s PV system design methodology quite literally set the standard for all others to follow. However, PVSyst is beginning to show its age and the lack of flexibility in using devices other than those running Windows has allowed newer service providers to challenge its dominance. PVSyst is sometimes necessary if the financial companies & stake holders insist on PVSyst simulation. Even in such a scenario it would be simpler to have someone run the analysis than pay the price for the full software.
- Accurate and bankable solar design & performance simulation that is world renowned
- System design, system sizing, 3D scene and shading requires PV designers to be qualified engineers.
- The user interface is dated and in comparison to other software requires an experienced and trained employee to get the best results.
- The above 2 needs are advantageous but they drive up design costs to company in terms of price of software and employee training cost.
- Battery storage can be configured and different operation modes can be simulated.
- Component library is extensive and if necessary compatible PAN & OND files from manufacturers can be uploaded.
- Ageing of the PV modules can be simulated and Bifacial PV modules can also be used for simulations which is advantageous for ground mounted utility scale PV projects.
- Energy consumption, financial modeling are new features that are now available.
PV Sol software would seem to have been left behind in the rapid changes that are happening across the solar industry. Designing solar power systems using PVSol is a somewhat manual and hands-on engineering process. It’s not the satellite image highlighting prominent roof obstructions that solar designers have become accustomed to.
- 3D Modeling requires the installer to pay a higher price and purchase the Pro version. 3D models can be created based on measurements from imported images and on site measurements.
- Battery storage systems can be easily added and the right charging/discharging strategy can be determined.
- Capable of simulating energy consumption profile including Electric Vehicle and corresponding mileage comparison to current fuel cost.
- Configurable project reports and financial forecasting.
- Online version with very limited features allows a glimpse of the software’s features. Hopefully this is a precursor to a full feature online version.
- Interface and methodology is dated and restricted to Windows devices.
- Project planning with detailed diagrams that determine cable runs and routes are very helpful for execution at the project site.
NREL SAM & PV Watts
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory gets an honorable mention for having provided and continuing to provide one of the most comprehensive software for designing renewable energy systems for free. The System Advisor Model (SAM) can design and model several power plants from renewable energy sources apart from solar such as wind, biomass and geothermal.
PV Watts is a browser-based tool for solar PV design and contains all you need to design a basic solution. The SAM tool is mostly oriented towards Windows but there are Mac and Linux versions available. With NREL validation, designs from the software are easily accepted by rebate authorities and the weather data is accurate for simulation & can be used in other software.
Bluesol & Solar Pro
Given the numerous solar SaaS that we have discussed SAM & PV Watts are dated software in the same vein as PVSyst and PV Sol but they do have legacy strength and any list of the best solar PV design software will be incomplete without including them. Similarly, other software such as Bluesol, Solar Pro by Laplace Systems and Solar Log Base are all products for solar energy project design that seem to have outlived their usefulness.
For example, Bluesol design methodology clearly states that it is based on a Microsoft Windows interface. Nevertheless, they remain the vanguard softwares of the solar energy market. In the nascent stages when solar designers realized that the application of solar technology for the reduction of the consumer’s electricity bill was a not altogether simple calculation, these products provided the necessary tool.
Solar software is a tool that is vital for the proliferation of solar, particularly, in the early majority stage of the industry where solar PV, battery storage, energy efficiency and electric vehicles have become main stream. Now more than ever the solar industry needs solutions, and software providers to remain at the cutting edge by applying the latest tools available at their disposal to solve solar industry problems.
Given the availability of artificial intelligence, machine learning and ubiquitous cloud computing; it is rather strange that a prolonged search for a feature as important, for post installation customer support, as Operation & Maintenance (O&M) has yielded few results. Thus, highlighting there is room for growth and improvement in the solar software sector.