Home Alternative guide Improving worker safety in residential solar energy through the use of drones

Improving worker safety in residential solar energy through the use of drones

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By Katie O’Leary, Director of Product Marketing at Deployment of drones

With growing demand for clean energy in multiple sectors, an increasing number of consumers are turning to solar power for their homes. According to recent statistics, the United States alone has installed enough solar panels to power 21.8 million homes, and advancements in panel hardware have made solar power more accessible to consumers by lower installation costs.

However, solar companies are always exploring new ways to meet growing consumer demand and prepare for a more sustainable future. Some companies, including the national solar and battery installer Sunrun, have turned to drones to transform the planning and design process. Along the way, these companies have discovered a variety of safety and efficiency benefits that have changed the way they do business.

Rising residential and consumer solar demand

The start of the modern movement towards widespread residential solar power can be attributed to the Congress’s Solar Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Act of 1974, which aimed to make solar power options feasible and affordable. for the public. Coupled with the 2006 solar investment tax credit, consumers quickly benefited from new financial and sustainable incentives to reduce their carbon footprint. And the demand is not decreasing. The size of the residential solar PV market in the United States is expected to reach $ 14.1 billion by 2028, mainly due to the growing awareness of alternative energy options and technological improvements in recent decades.

While increasing consumer demand means fantastic things for the sustainability movement, the solar industry still faces many hurdles. Like many other industries, it faces supply chain challenges and a global semiconductor shortage, which are integral to converting sunlight into electricity. Additionally, when it comes to the solar energy industry, recruiting, hiring, and training technicians to meet increased demand is a lengthy process that costs companies valuable time and resources. precious.

In response, companies like Sunrun have turned to drones for site surveys and mapping installation environments. Using this technology to work alongside site technicians can help avoid delays and speed up installation times.

The use of drones for site surveys

While some installations may still require site technicians to lean a ladder against a house and pass through the roof for initial readings, these days Sunrun is also incorporating drones into the process. Sunrun uses drones and mapping technologies like Deployment of drones to quickly, safely and efficiently map and measure roofs before panels are installed.

Previously, surveys involved laborious manual tasks: measuring roofs and obstructions (chimney, plumbing vent, etc.), capturing 360 ° photos of surrounding environments, and physically sketching the site to then pass them on to designers to recreate them. in AutoCAD. These readings could take up to four hours, limiting each technician to about two to three sites per day. Not only does this process have a physical impact on technicians, it can also be complex and time consuming.

Drone technology allows technicians to fly over entire sites in about 15 minutes or less and quickly share these digital twins with other team members. Once uploaded, Sunrun designers can accurately provide a layout for solar panel installations on each residence.

In Sunrun’s case, the company first dabbled in drone use in early 2020, when it purchased its first fleet of 110 drones and trained every site technician to become Part-certified pilots. 107. Today, Sunrun has expanded the program to include approximately 250 site technicians. These technicians can perform up to 1,500 flights per week, map and measure customer roofs safely from the ground.

What this means for the consumer

There is no doubt that the expansion of residential solar programs is a net good for the broader sustainable energy transition. Over its lifetime, the Sunrun average solar home will prevent harmful carbon emissions equal to driving 498,778 miles in an average car – more than enough to go to the moon and come back.

Drones contribute to this sustainable energy transition by improving the installation experience while allowing consumers to benefit from savings in time and money. Since using drones, Sunrun has cut appointment times by roughly 45 minutes per task and freed up the ability for technicians to inspect more rooftops over the course of a week. To date, Sunrun has already used DroneDeploy to map just over 70,000 homes.

While the progress made in residential solar power thanks to drones is impressive, this is only the beginning. The growing potential of reality capture solutions like DroneDeploy and advancements in hardware could introduce fully self-contained site surveys in the (hopefully) near future, accelerating consumers’ journeys to clean energy.


Katie O’Leary is Director of Product Marketing at DroneDeploy, where she helps companies across various industries improve the efficiency and safety of their operations through the use of drones and aerial information. Prior to DroneDeploy, Katie worked with various other software companies in marketing and product marketing roles. She is based in the Bay Area.