Aerial imaging for residential PV

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From pv magazine USA

EagleView, a U.S. aerial imagery specialist, is not trying to compete with design companies. Rather, it believes it complements them, according to Tim Rochman, the company’s VP of energy markets.

“At EagleView, it’s never been about the roof, it’s been about all the roofs,” Rochman explained. “We want to be this full-service data provider, end-to-end, but just for data. We’re not a design software company, we don’t have a layout tool.”

EagleView is equal parts aerial imaging company and a data purveyor. To get a better idea of what the company does, it’s important to know how it began.

Long road

The company began in 2000, based around the concept of oblique aerial imagery. Pictometry, as it was known then, was a way to supplement the traditional top-down aerial photography of buildings with side views. It involved the use of photographs taken from piloted aircraft with proprietary cameras and lenses that allowed for those oblique, 45-degree, shots of the sides of buildings.

“We know where on the planet every single pixel is, in X, Y and Z,” said Rochman.

From there, the company made its name in the municipal government and insurance worlds. The company has worked with more than two-thirds of all the counties in the United States, with aerial imaging coverage for roughly 98% of the U.S. population.

In 2007, Pictometry joined with two individuals who were able to use rooftop and oblique home images to create accurate three-dimensional models of homes and structures. Together, they became EagleView and jumped into the insurance industry. It turned out that roofs are the No. 1 source of insurance claims, from a property standpoint.

Moving into energy

As the company grew and got in with larger insurance companies, it began working with utilities, like Alabama Power, to get imaging and obstruction data for transmission and distribution infrastructure. And while the connection between insurance and rooftop solar may not be clear at first, Rochman attributes a fair bit of EagleView’s solar success to the company’s diverse background.

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“It’s a natural extension, because we know everything about a roof,” said Rochman. “We know about all the nuances of measurement and measurement accuracy. We know that, regardless of what software you’re using or what resolution imagery you have, you cannot trace a project onto a roof accurately. We don’t trance onto the pixels, we go into the metadata of the image and create these three-dimensional models. I knew, from insurance, how our stuff is better than a person on a roof.”

Last year, the company took another big step when it officially launched its first two residential-solar-focused products: Inform Essentials+ and Inform Advanced. Inform Essentials+ uses aerial imagery, precise measurements and 3D models to prepare accurate project proposals and plan sets.

Rochman shares that the measurements and models are so precise, that they cut out the need for a site visit, allowing the entire design of a system to be done remotely. This can cut a week or more out of overall project timelines, saving money and allowing installers to take on more projects than before.

As for Inform Advanced, the service provides everything that Inform Essentials+ does, with the addition of shading analysis, allowing for further precision in system design.

Image: EagleView

“We take our roof model and we conflate it with a digital surface model that we create of the surrounding world to create a grid view,” explained Rochman. “We then take shade readings for every six inches of the grid for every 15 minutes of the year.”

Looking ahead

According to Rochman, the possibilities don’t end with rooftop imaging and project design.

“We work with everybody,” Rochman said. “Because of our experience with companies like National Grid or Alabama power, there’s even implications for distributed energy resource management, grid resiliency and we’ve done studies for companies where we’ll look at their service territory and identify every structure that has solar on it. They have to go back and look at their circuits and feeders and they might have to upgrade their transformers or other stuff.”

As for the present, the company wants to become more familiar with the overall solar market, as it made its big industry debut at Solar Power International last year. EagleView was in attendance for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) 2020 CE Conference this month, where it led a training session on virtual workflows.

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