Solargraf Review

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Solargraf is a design and sales software for residential and commercial solar requirements, providing an easy to use platform for solar installers and developers. Solargraf is part of a suite of products provided by Sofdesk, which also includes Roofgraf a product for roofing providers. Solargraf’s approach to design and creation of sales proposal depends on a browser based solution that allows Solargraf users to create and contribute to design, estimation, costing and quotation of solar solutions in one all encompassing cloud based solution.

Sofdesk

Founded by Lennie Morenoe, CEO and Maxime Fafard, CTO in 2013, based in Montreal to provide solution for the solar and roofing industry. Sofdesk has been growing with the last Series B fundraising round at $5.7 million in 2019 for a total of $8 million. In January 2021, Enphase Energy announced the acquisition of Sofdesk to expand Enphase’s digitalization drive and improve their solar and storage offerings to residential consumers and better facilitate their solar installers. Enphase Energy, joined the S&P 500 earlier the same month and is valued at $24 billion, the first solar focused energy company to do so, after a banner 2019 & 2020 stock rally. Sofdesk’s acquisition by Enphase Energy is driven by a realization of the underlying strength and capability of Solargraf and its ability to drive growth and performance of the residential solar market in the United States and Canada.

Solar Software

Solar software for solar installers need to be designed with one goal, to facilitate the operational requirements that allows them to better cater to the needs of the distributed residential and commercial solar projects. The demand for solar and storage continues to increase due to greater awareness, better prices and increasing environmental consciousness. Residential consumers require greater attention and customization, requiring specific attention to individual needs. From a solar installer’s perspective it drives the soft cost of the projects, in other words, the cost of customer acquisition as opposed to the life time value of the customer increases rapidly. With the large amount of web traffic generated leads that need to be pursued in order to achieve growth in the residential solar market a software that streamlines the process of design and quotation is vital to the installers’ operation.

Solar Design Principles

In solar design there are site specific conditions that are dependent on each individual house & rooftop location and the electricity consumption; and the general conditions such as solar irradiance, utility rates and state and federal taxes & incentives. The solar design software is required to be capable of optimizing a size of installation that creates the best benefit of these varying factors, considering the installers product and solution mix. A winning combination balances these multitude of factors appropriately such that it meets all the customer’s expectations. Residential consumers are retail consumers and therefore expect a customer service level and attention that feel like any other equivalent product or service.

Standard features of solar sales software vendors

Solar design software follows the best practice that is a sequence of steps that is now tried and tested by all participants in the industry. The sequence is as follows;

1. Site

Site specific conditions need to be measured and quantified, this involves measurement of the available space at the installation location. For residential applications the most cost effective location is the roof. Shade analysis of the roof space is evaluated for its accessibility to abundant sunlight. The electric consumption of the residential unit over the course of the day, month and year will be required along with the cost of the electricity.

2. Design

The design places the solar modules on the roof factoring in the restrictions of the roof’s ability to accept the modules, the electricity generation potential of the location, the choice and capacity of the inverter, cabling and other structural components. The placement of the modules considers the constraints of the orientation and tilt of the modules and the shading of nearby objects and the horizon. Arriving at an optimal balance of system capacity and price in consideration of the current electricity needs and the cost of the electricity.

3. Quote

The quotation compares the design & the price of the system against the current cost of electricity and allows the installer to present to the customer the best case option for going solar, the financial factors, product performance reviews that will required to be considered too.

4. Contract

The contract stipulates all parties to deliver on their respective commitments and adhere to the promised timelines, warranties and guarantees. The contract is usually signed in person but increasingly we see the adoption of electronic signature of contracts as the norm. The integration of electronic signature in the contract onto a software platform updates to a frictionless customer buying experience.

5. Permitting

Interacting with several city, county and state regulatory authorities for compliance and permits is often complicated by the numerous agencies and government bodies with whom there is a need to interact. And as is often the case, poor understanding or management of the various lead times of each permitting can impact the delivery and installation of projects. Software that tracks and facilitates the permit management proves to be beneficial to the solar installation process.

6. Installation

On site delivery, installation and commissioning of the solar system needs to be a coordinated project management with the occupant. This involves communication of timeline and setting expectations for the customer.

7. O&M and Monitoring

Operation & Maintenance of the solar system requires a periodic cleaning, inspection dependent on site specific conditions and firmware updates of monitoring equipment. The details and schedule of which need to be explained and agreed upon at the contract stage. The use of remote monitoring equipment to monitor system performance in addition to the O&M activities allows the customer & the solar installer to have visibility and provides for reviews on the performance of the solar system.

Solargraf

Solargraf is to be a solar software platform that is the core for all of solar installers’ business needs. Solargraf provides all the functionalities required by the solar installer that is enhanced by the various user roles and ubiquitous access capabilities. Solargraf is also offered as a white labelled enterprise software platform to large residential installers with national operations in the United States, Solargraf in essence provides a more closely aligned software to suit a national enterprise’s needs. Solargraf software features are easy to use and feel like they are intuitive for seasoned solar sales executives, engineers and managers.

Rule settings

As a platform for solar that is easy to use, Solargraf depends on setting the correct parameters based on which each quotation and proposal is created. This requires creating a list of preferred modules, inverters, mounting structures, shade analysis metrics, cables and accessories. Solargraf allows for default settings of the most used equipment & default values affecting shade analysis, making the design process essentially automated.

The rule settings can also specify defaults for setbacks, keepouts and stringing principles. Regulatory requirements are drawn in from other sources such as county and state documents that will be automatically applied based on the location of the solar systems’s installation.

Pricing for equipment & services is available at this stage and these values are also inputed into the Solargraf platform. Once the rule settings of default equipment, material and services with their respective prices are available, the hardware components and costs of the system are factored.

Design Process

Solargraf design process is as follows; The new project begins with the address of the location. In the event the address is unavailable because it is a building that is under construction the location’s geographic coordinates can be used.

1. Lead Generation

The details of the customer such as name and contact details can be imported automatically from Solargraf lead generation or another source. Solargraf provides customer leads as an additional feature which can be paid for using monthly credits applied to the leads. Solargraf’s provision of leads is a convenient methodology of allocation marketing and promotional resources that would otherwise be spent to drive web traffic to the solar installers’ websites, the direct Solargraf lead integration is helpful in improving solar sales. Solargraf’s lead generation division was acquired by WaveSolar in 2019.

2. Utility

Solargraf allows you to enter just one month’s (or as many as available) utility bill; utility providers based on location are suggested and utility rate options can be chosen. This capability is provided by the integration with Genability’s API for utility rates and electricity usage pattern over a period of day, month and year. The Genability integration with Solargraf enhances the estimation of the customer’s electricity usage pattern. Solargraf provides the user with a convenient metric of estimation that is a useful reference point in sizing the solar system and the placement of solar panels.

United States Federal & State tax incentives and credits are retrieved from the database based on the location. This gives the Solargraf user a visibility on the avenues for additional cost savings and an indication of the pricing model that is best suited for the customer. The database and reference information is vetted and verified by Solargraf, allowing the user to depend on the Solargraf’s platform to provide the best results for modeling the customer’s needs.

3. Aerial HD Overhead Imagery

The design of solar panel systems with browser based software necessitates the use of satellite imagery. However, due to the higher altitude and the frequency of imaging, satellite imagery is being eschewed in favor of aerial HD overhead imagery. In Solargraf we are provided with access to satellite imagery from Google & Bing and aerial HD overhead imagery from Nearmaps & Eagleview. Solargraf offers these images built in as default in all packages, quite unusual where other software vendors charge additional fees or require you to subscribe directly to the image provider.

Aerial HD overhead imagery has certain advantages to satellite imagery, particularly in the top view, where the lower altitude produces a result that allows for more accurate measurements of the roof. Solargraf also allows users to import their projects’ images from other sources. Solargraf can be used to create layout of solar panels for yet to be constructed residential units.

4. Autopitch

Estimating layout of solar panels is simple in Solargraf, the layout can be quickly demarcated and adjusted to the most favorable option. Solargraf rule settings providing the constraints on setbacks and keepouts. The pitch can be automatically estimated with the use of Solargraf’s proprietary AI and Machine Learning capability. Solargraf Autopitch estimation saves crucial time in determining the mounting and tilt requirements.

Some Solargraf competitors are providing LIDAR based imagery for use of measurement and modeling of the roof for more accuracy. In using Solargraf for design of the solar panels it would be largely for estimation purposes as opposed to a final design. The mounting methodology determines the costing and standard offsets for the region can be pre-configured or used as a global default settings in Solargraf, based on city or county regulations and fire codes.

5. Shading

Solargraf Shading analysis provided by Google’s Project Sunroof allows for an estimation of the installations’ generation ability. The inverter size estimation is similarly completed on the basis of the shading and panel capacity

Solargraf offers Roof Design as a Service based on standard and additional credits available to all users. This allows users to benefit from Solargraf support online and focus on their immediate business needs that the users are more qualified to do, allowing sales teams to spend more time on customer interaction.

6. Proposal Creation

Proposal creation in Solargraf collates all the information, electricity usage data, shading analysis, customer financing options from the design and applies the calculation on the basis of the rule settings to create proposals. Users of Solargraf create proposals that are customized with branding and corporate color requirements as needed by the solar installer.

Customer Choice

Solar sales professionals understand the virtue of choice for their customers. Customers will consider other solar installers and would like options that better suite their budgetary and financing constraints. Solargraf provides good, better and best options in the equipment quotation and therefore allows for the possibility of exploring pricing options for the customer to better choose a solution that is more pertinent to their particular use.

Solargraf proposals are fully customizable in terms of the order of information and the customer discovery methodology leading to purchase decisions. Solargraf allows users’ sales team to define and finetune the proposal layout structuring with options such as; company details, electricity consumption usage data, image of solar panel systems, shading analysis, electricity generation modeling, product comparison pages, permit management, customer financing options, project workflows, user reviews, contract language all prepared and available for electronic signature. Project timeline can be customised with dates and during the installation process serves as a live progress update to keep track of the project milestones.

In Solargraf the installers’ sales teams are available to provide support online in real time to facilitate the purchase decisions of their customers. The proposals can be shared with customers by sending them the link; real time across the table during a discussion about the financing options, explore the product comparison pages or drop down financing options; or as a PDF document. The purpose of a live proposal link is the ability for the solar installers’ sales executive to discuss with the customer the options and requirements with both parties looking at the same data and details. This facilitates a discussion and improves the engagement of the customer for their purchase options. It allows the sales executive to design while interacting with the customer and actively seeking their input during the design process. The shared proposal is a contract that can be digitally signed and the process of loan or lease application, permitting and installation process can begin.

Virtual Assessment & Permitting

Solargraf provides a platform for solar Virtual Assessment which can be completed for permitting & design by providing the customer with the required details. The customer is then able to use the link provided to upload directly to Solargraf the appropriate pictures. It follows a simple browser based form that is customized by the engineering or sales team in the single projects window. Permits from city or county authorities for roof additions, electrical modifications and environmental clearances as applicable can be completed through Solargraf. Permitting is part of the features that are available upon payment per transaction or application of permit credits in a manner similar to roof design.

Easy to Use Finance Applications

Financing is integrated into Solaragraf, this is another of the features that is available to users in the single window of the customers’ projects. When interacting with customers over real time interaction the financial options can also be explored while considering the pricing model that is best suited for the customer. At the design, sales and proposal creation stage of project workflows the applicable choice can be taken from a drop down financing options list. The selection can be applied, after the contract signature, for approval through the integrations in Solargraf. A link can be sent to the customer over email for the customer details and the application process for certain types of loans and customer categories is near instantaneous creating great engagement and confidence in the installers’ abilities.

1. Mosaic

Mosaic integrated in Solargraf provides financing solutions that are tailored to the residential solar market in the United States providing financing solutions that have features and services favorable to solar installers’ need to improve their closure rates.

2. Dividend

Dividend provide loans as flat fixed rates or variable rates with no down payment. The option for application is simple in Solargraf and once configured by the installer it is a near instantaneous approval by Dividend. Also, Dividend offers Solargraf installers in the United States the option to provide financing for solar and storage.

3. LoanPal

LoanPal provides financial products in the United States for home improvement on energy efficiency features of the residential unit. This is not restricted to solar, it extends to energy efficiency modifications as well as storage solutions. The broader scope of the product offering is enhanced by the commitment for quick approvals. This is certainly enabled by the Solargraf integration and the pre-vetting of the installer’s projects, delivery credentials and user reviews.

4. GreenSky

Through Solargraf, GreenSky offers home improvement loans for energy efficiency home automation and solar loans. The installers are provided with the ability to quickly interact with the customers, with zero down payment and low interest rate loans in the United States. The financing model is designed to enable the installers to grow their business reach by offering customers and depend on closed deals for financing and ensuring immediate cash flow.

Solargraf Unique Features

Solargraf does have a few features that are unique among fellow solar software vendors. While they are not solutions that cannot be matched by solar industry peers it does warrant a mention.

Training Sessions

Training on the Solargraf platform is available for the user for free. While, this level of commitment to training of users is unusual in an industry that is increasingly dependent on video tutorials and self support knowledgebases, it is certainly commendable.

AI & Machine Learning

Solargraf’s application of Artificial Intelligence in image recognition and modeling the solar layout to better suite the roof space and use solar availability and shading data to arrive at an optimal electricity generation capability is a pioneering approach for solar design. The ambition for Solargraf and now Enphase Energy is to better apply this capability to shorten design times and simultaneously improve accuracy; a drive towards improving the practical operational performance as near to the designed performance.

Zapier integration

Zapier is a toolset of API integrations that allows for connecting SaaS that are otherwise incompatible to work together. The options with Zapier and Solargraf are really only limited by the creativity of the users. This integration puts additional resources at the installers disposal which would otherwise not be possible, such as but not limited to; CRM, Cataloguing, Scheduling & Automation of Appointments, Payment Reminders, Social Media Integration and Remote Monitoring & Alerts.

Browser based

Users of Solargraf are provided with a cloud software that is fully mobile browser based, enabling remote use capabilities. Users’ access rights management allows various contributors from managers, sales executives, engineers, purchase managers and marketing contributors to work together; for on the go Solargraf professionals the features available to the users makes all the difference as a reliable projects software.

Enterprise Channel

Enterprise users of Solargraf software benefit from management of their nationwide dealer and installer network in the United States. Solargraf provides a Whitelabel platform for use by residential solar developers such as Enphase Installer Network keen on their digitalisation as a path to growth. Video tutorials & training is available and allow to expand and explore the capabilities of the Solargraf.

Solargraf Reviews

Solargraf foot print is rather large and often the question arises of the platform’s ability to deliver on all fronts. User reviews suggest that Solargraf succeeds in delivering what the users expect when adopting Solargraf as their core solar software. Solargraf reviews are positive, customers are particularly pleased with their pricing model and features list.

Conclusion

Solargraf is certainly a strong platform for installers, channel managers, project managers and financiers alike. It combines several favored features from other solar software vendors in a winning combination that works well together

The speed with which projects are closed is one of the prominent features; the customer journey from discovery, selection, financial options, purchase decisions, contract language to electronic signature in a single browser window is commendable. As is Solargraf’s ability to work on any browser even on mobile devices, although some cookie settings might need to be adjusted to improve performance.

Solargraf design bankability will need more time to be proven as compared to other software vendors dedicated to achieving higher accuracy levels. The AI and Machine Learning features’ effectiveness can only be seen after the reviews of time tested installations come through. Solargraf is certainly more inclined towards design capabilities; largely oriented towards speed and customer engagement. The various features, API integration and financial integrations in particular are of great value. Pricing starting at $79 per user, considering default inclusion of aerial HD overhead imagery, is commendable value for customers in United States and Canada.

The recent Enphase acquisition will drive and strengthen both Solargraf and Enphase. Enphase’s growth and market capabilities with growing demand in residential solar market is promising for the future as attested to by the investors’ confidence.