Strange Question?

My name is Sarah and I'm an aspiring software entrepreneur living in Portland, OR.

I'm doing some research on the PV Installer industry to see if I can find some of the consistent challenges it is facing.

Then my hopes would be to solve them...with software.

Can folks tell me one frustration they deal with on a daily basis? Even one sentence is fine!

Look forward to hearing what people have to say. :D
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Comments

  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Welcome to the forum Sarah.

    I do not do installs, but I do a lot of rework on systems that have been done wrong and talk to a lot of installers (mostly non-professionals but some pros as well).

    By far I'd say the two biggest problems are customers who don't understand how it all works and inspectors who don't understand how it all works. That's about as polite as I can put it, and as such doesn't really demonstrate the extremes to which those problems can go.
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Thank you for your response.
    Is it safe to assume (understanding that you're not an installer) that the lack of knowledge contributes to delays in completion of projects and thus directly affects the bottom line?

    If you were an installer, what do you think would help alleviate this frustration?
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Thank you for your response.
    Is it safe to assume (understanding that you're not an installer) that the lack of knowledge contributes to delays in completion of projects and thus directly affects the bottom line?

    Yes, that is a fair assessment. Delays are usually do to difficulties in meeting local requirements. Some of these are just plain absurd from an engineering POV.
    If you were an installer, what do you think would help alleviate this frustration?

    Streamlining the permitting process for one thing. Consistent rules between jurisdictions for another. There's even a thread on here somewhere wherein one of the members was attempting to accomplish this. Not sure he's had any luck at all.

    A national energy policy would be a good idea too. Accept that solar is going to happen and stop certain utilities from being obstructionist about it so that it can be integrated in a manner that benefits everyone.

    (Amazing: I managed to avoid suggesting dropping L16's on AHJ's until they admit engineers are smarter than they are! Such self-control I have! :D )
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Is there anything you deal with on a daily basis on a smaller scale (not necessarily energy policy or permitting) that is tedious or takes up a lot of your time? Billing, recording mileage, putting together estimates, following up on leads, etc?
  • Mustang65Mustang65 Solar Expert Posts: 42 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Not that I have much background in the area of solar installations, but I believe that SOLAR, as with any major installation has a lot of parallels. In our communications group, part of a major RX company, we had EXACTLY 120 days to build/open a drug store once the ground breaking took place. So you ask, how does this relate to SOLAR? Simply put, you need a plan of attack; we had our architect blueprints that needed to be approved locally, prior construction started, as with a SOLAR installation plan. We needed to have a TRAINED WORK FORCE available, which really produced some challenges, in different areas. We needed to insure that we had all the REQUIRED EQUIPMENT available before starting. We needed to insure that all the PERMITS were applied for and approved. We needed to insure that the INSPECTORS were notified in advance of the dates that we would need for them to inspect the completed work. We needed the UTILITY to inspect and give us the final seal of approval before the cut over of the stores ELECTRICAL system. Weather was a major roadblock, in the first stages of a build, maybe your software can have a 3-4-5 day weather alert/alarm for installs, based on install start dates. Like Heavy rain, high winds, lightening, freezing rain, snow….

    So if you’re looking at creating software for SOLAR installations. You will need to ask if you can follow a professional SOLAR installation crew for a few weeks or so, to see how and what they do it, paying attention to what goes smoothly, what problems they encounter, and what they have to give you as input (very important). Watch them from beginning to end of each project. Take lots of notes. You will need to sit down with the office staff and follow an install from when the contract was signed to when the customer is up and running. This will include ordering surveys, permits, inspections, ordering system parts, verifying received parts, delivery of parts to job, testing system parts prior to installing, daily installation progress, system testing status, and final installation system numbers.

    One thing to keep in mind is that NONE OF THE INSTALLATION COMPANIES WILL GO FOR A LABOR INTENSIVE SOFTWARE PROGRAM. DO NOT OVER BURDEN THEM WITH DATA ENTRIES….
    Don
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Thank you Don for the very valuable insights.

    The whole idea here is to create something that is the opposite of labor intensive. I want to make life easier for solar installers, to take away all the manual data entry so they can focus more on their business.:D
  • jcheiljcheil Solar Expert Posts: 722 ✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    I, being a Software Developer as well, am wondering what exactly you are trying to create?

    Meaning, other than estimating software, which many people (myself included) have already written, that basically gives you estimates on the number of panels, batteries and such based on estimated loads and hours of sunlight. After that, it is simply a matter of the "trade" labor. Mechanical, electrical, etc.

    So, I guess I am still trying to wrap my head around what TYPE of software you are thinking of creating and how it will be used.
    Off-Grid in Central Florida since 2005, Full-Time since June 2014 | 12 X Sovello 205w panels, 9 X ToPoint 220w panels, 36x ToPoint 225w panels (12,525 watts total) | Custom built single-axis ground mounts | Complete FP2 Outback System: 3 x FM80, 2 x VFX3648, X240 Transformer, FLEXnet-DC, Mate-3, Hub-10, FW500 AC/DC | 24 x Trojan L16RE-B Batteries 1110ah @ 48v | Honda EU7000is Generator and a pile of "other" Generators | Home-Made PVC solar hot water collector | Custom data logging software http://www.somewhatcrookedcamp.com/monitormate.html
  • vtmapsvtmaps Solar Expert Posts: 3,739 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Permitting and inspection can certainly be a nightmare for solar installers. On the other hand, many installers get jobs from property owners who are too daunted by the permitting to do it themselves.

    --vtMaps
    4 X 235watt Samsung, Midnite ePanel, Outback VFX3524 FM60 & mate, 4 Interstate L16, trimetric, Honda eu2000i
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Jcheil,
    The type of software depends on the results from my research and the needs of the industry.
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Thank you vtmaps for your response.

    Do permit requirements vary state by state?
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Thank you vtmaps for your response.

    Do permit requirements vary state by state?

    Yes indeed. And sometimes county by county or even city by city.
  • SolarPoweredSolarPowered Solar Expert Posts: 626 ✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Do permit requirements vary state by state?

    Before pulling permits or doing design. Its always good to ask the local jurisdiction for their permit checklist. The checklist will tell you exactly what you need to do so you won't be doing to much paper work that might be unnecessary requirements. Unless you are a good politician like myself that can B.S through a permit approval, its recommended to get good at the paper work.

    Best Advice
  • Mustang65Mustang65 Solar Expert Posts: 42 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Its always good to ask the local jurisdiction for their permit checklist.

    GREAT IDEA!!!
    I think I will head over to the City's office building and see if I can get a hard copy of the inspection list prior to getting started. I know what is required, but if I have the checklist I can ensure an UNEVENTFUL inspection... OK, almost an uneventful inspection, because there will always be something to nit-pic on.
    Thanks
    Don
    Hopefully they will give me a copy !!! (If they even have one...)
  • SolarPoweredSolarPowered Solar Expert Posts: 626 ✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Mustang65 wrote: »
    GREAT IDEA!!!
    I think I will head over to the City's office building and see if I can get a hard copy of the inspection list prior to getting started. I know what is required, but if I have the checklist I can ensure an UNEVENTFUL inspection... OK, almost an uneventful inspection, because there will always be something to nit-pic on.
    Thanks
    Don
    Hopefully they will give me a copy !!! (If they even have one...)

    For solar permit applications most of the checklists are supplied online. Go to your city building departments website, or google it.
    If there isn't a checklist then just design around 2011 NEC. Once the permit is in order according to your design, you can be the best mitigator in extinguishing the inspectors criticism.
    A permit set is a legal binding agreement between both parties, and if you are the designer builder and approved for build the inspector can't bust balls over it.
    Tell inspector to take a hike as its called "build per plan" for a reason. Done that a few times, then after a few times with the same inspector they become your friend and want to go out to lunch and B.S. Be a good politician, it works well.
    Kindest Regards
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,382 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    here is one the Arizona Public Service provides for drawing acceptance, the AHJ may have more.

    https://www.aps.com/library/renewables/PVSystemchecklist.pdf

    Interconnect requirements:
    https://www.aps.com/library/solar%20renewables/InterconnectReq.pdf

    Requirements for the AC disconnect:
    https://www.aps.com/library/renewables/UtilityDiscSwitchChecklist.pdf
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    It looks like permits are a real pain point for a lot of installers.

    If you guys could wave a magic wand and have the frustrations that come along with the permit process disappear, what would your ideal permitting process look like?
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Before pulling permits or doing design. Its always good to ask the local jurisdiction for their permit checklist. The checklist will tell you exactly what you need to do so you won't be doing to much paper work that might be unnecessary requirements. Unless you are a good politician like myself that can B.S through a permit approval, its recommended to get good at the paper work.

    Best Advice

    Can somebody explain this checklist process a little more? Is it mandatory to fill out the checklist or is it simply considered best practices so your chances are better at getting a permit approved?
    Are the permits submitted electronically or are they handwritten and submitted by mail?
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,382 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Can somebody explain this checklist process a little more? Is it mandatory to fill out the checklist or is it simply considered best practices so your chances are better at getting a permit approved?
    Are the permits submitted electronically or are they handwritten and submitted by mail?

    In this Jurisdiction, Permits are filed either at the office or faxed in. The acceptance is an inspector with the checklist plus the NEC electrical code in hand. The system needs to meet the permitted design and the NEC. Then the Utility comes out with their checklist to commission the system allowing the interconnect..
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Thank you solar_dave! Is the permit submitted to the Utility company? Or a government entity?
  • SolarPoweredSolarPowered Solar Expert Posts: 626 ✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Thank you solar_dave! Is the permit submitted to the Utility company? Or a government entity?
    NET metering agreement form must be submitted to utility company to comply with federal regulations, state has to comply with feed in tarrif regulations. Once wholesale distributor, and utility service reach agreement to terms of NET metering application, the final approved permit set with PV watts calculations is submitted to utility company. In most cases wholesale distributor should carry home insurance to cover solar distribution, it is not a requirement, but it will expedite NET metering terms of agreement.
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,382 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Thank you solar_dave! Is the permit submitted to the Utility company? Or a government entity?

    Permit is submitted to the local government authority, but in my case the Utility has the final say about commissioning. That is general a perfunctory approval since code has been met with the permitting process, but they can push back as it is their grid. Generally the permitting agency knows the Utility requirements and forces that into the permitted design. The permitting agency here has additional requirements for 3 ft. set back from the roof peak so fire department can easily vent the attic in case of fire and structural approval for panel mounting as well.
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    Thank you for all the important feedback, it is very much appreciated.

    Is document management a pain point for anyone?

    Can somebody describe what process they go throw when providing a quote or estimate for a client?
  • SolarPoweredSolarPowered Solar Expert Posts: 626 ✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    Thank you for all the important feedback, it is very much appreciated.

    Is document management a pain point for anyone?

    Can somebody describe what process they go throw when providing a quote or estimate for a client?

    Flat rate for roof installation Includes all consultation,engineering, permit processing, material installation, NET Meteing processing, client/utility hand off turn key $3.48 perwatt before fed tax credit.
    If client wants to fund material for project the costs come out to:

    consultation, engineering, permit processing, NET Metering processing, client/utility hand off turn key .10 per watt
    Labor installation material installation (for structural and electrical scopes) .99 per watt
    Structural retro fitting for 2X4 rafters and trussing .10 per watt
    material costs supplied by contractor marked up 10% for 30 day financing terms

    That is essentially an industry standard. Quotes are not that hard to put together. now making the system operate to estimated calculations thats a whole other can of worms, and if a contractor builds a system that under performs there are issues. Always design to over produce.

    My labor quote on material installation is actually low and below the average standard, only because I am a class B installer and not a California C-10 or C-46 which the rate is typically 15% higher for C-46 and 30% higher for C-10, mostly because of prevailing wage rates.
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    All,

    If you could pay money to have one frustration you deal with on a daily basis taken away, or made easier/automated, what would it be?
  • SolarPoweredSolarPowered Solar Expert Posts: 626 ✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    All,

    If you could pay money to have one frustration you deal with on a daily basis taken away, or made easier/automated, what would it be?

    PFFT I'm not giving up a penny, I would rather deal with the frustration, that's the construction game and contractors aren't down for losing profitability.
  • vtmapsvtmaps Solar Expert Posts: 3,739 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    If you could pay money to have one frustration you deal with on a daily basis taken away, or made easier/automated, what would it be?
    PFFT I'm not giving up a penny, I would rather deal with the frustration, that's the construction game and contractors aren't down for losing profitability.
    Huh? You wouldn't spend money to make your job easier/automated? Keep digging with that teaspoon.... I'm going to spend money and buy a shovel :cool:

    --vtMaps
    4 X 235watt Samsung, Midnite ePanel, Outback VFX3524 FM60 & mate, 4 Interstate L16, trimetric, Honda eu2000i
  • SolarPoweredSolarPowered Solar Expert Posts: 626 ✭✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?
    vtmaps wrote: »
    Huh? You wouldn't spend money to make your job easier/automated? Keep digging with that teaspoon.... I'm going to spend money and buy a shovel :cool:

    --vtMaps

    I've been in this business since I was 16 years old. My dad (also a contractor) taught me what it took to get by without needing the support from others. First couple years as a licensed contractor sure it was frustrating. Once you understand how people work, the politics involved I now find it thoroughly entertaining rather than frustrating. Different strokes for different folks.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    I've been in business of one type or another for more years than most of you have been alive. In the last 30 or so the other half has been in the business of other peoples' businesses (accounting). For last years of my labour I have been contracting too.

    As such I know full-well the value of investing in something that makes the job easier, faster, more efficient. It's called "profit".

    vtMaps is right on this: buying that shovel and doing the same job in a fraction of the time for the same income equals more profit.

    Whether or not any sort of software is going to ease the paperwork hassle remains to be seen. In that I agree with SolarPowered and remain doubtful there will be any 'magic wand' to make that headache go away.

    The compromise I see is using the shovel to bury the paperwork, but some probably some people wouldn't agree with that.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,004 admin
    Re: Strange Question?

    In general, automation makes sense when you standardize.

    With building/trades/local governments--Standardization is rare.

    Trying to make a "package" that will work across a wide range of customers is difficult.

    In my earlier life, what can work well is to work with one company/organization to automate their processes--Then see if you can then sell/modify your product to support others.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • sarahjacksonsarahjackson Registered Users Posts: 17 ✭✭
    Re: Strange Question?

    All very good points.
    I guess I've always followed the old saying "time is money" and if I could cut out some inefficiencies, it would save folks money in the long run.
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