PVComplete, one of the companies in Oakland’s SfunCube solar startup incubator, is enjoying an accelerated rise to success. Their unique solar design software has won several awards in the past few months. In December 2014, the young company became a finalist in the US Department of Energy Sunshot Catalyst Program and was given $25,000 to use in developing a new software module. In May 2015, they won the Catalyst Demo Day competition, which came with a $100,000 grant. The future continues to brighten as Forbes recently named PVComplete one of the five solar IT startups that you should know about.
PVComplete is the first software on the market with a CAD solution for solar. The software offers solar project design as a single flow process, from proposals to planning and construction. PVComplete launched the CAD version of its software at Solar Power International, the industry’s largest trade conference in October, 2014
“By automating the most time-consuming tasks, we empower designers and engineers to produce better project design. With this time savings they can create multiple project designs quickly and optimize them. We are now moving from the task of meeting code to one where we find the greatest return on investment. Our mission is to reduce solar soft costs, so we’ve developed a process where this can be designed by anybody on the web and then all that data is transferred into the CAD space for when the project moves further down along the construction phase,” explained CEO and Co-founder Claudia Eyzaguirre.
Most solar projects are designed with AutoCAD. The current version of PVComplete is built for engineers, designers, and drafters who are building the construction plan set. Since the company’s first 40 customers came onboard after a writeup in SolarPro magazine, the software has expanded to suit all aspects of solar design and planning.
In addition to the CAD design software, they are working on a light-weight web design app. “With the feedback now coming from our customers, we really needed to have a lightweight and fast web app that would allow salespersons to do design work on the web. Salespersons don’t have AutoCAD, they don’t know how to use it, and they don’t really need it, so we wanted to create a program for them to design projects using a map application, like with Google Maps. You can easily locate any building on Earth, then draw solar right onto the roof, call out to the cloud database of modules and inverters that we have in our CAD software. Our customers asked for that, and that’s something we are building,” Eyzaguirre explained.
Up till now, when designing a solar project, an engineer has had to draw a line from each solar panel to an inverter or a combiner box. Each of those lines gets drawn and connected along the way. Stringing a project with hundreds of little squares that represent solar panels can take all afternoon and has to be done properly. PVComplete does all of the necessary sizing calculations immediately. It has wire stringing functions, so with a click of the button the whole project is automatically strung, as are the calculations for the wire sizing.
The software does the bulk of the design and sizing with minimal basic inputs: roof outline, obstructions dimensions (like tall HVAC units), and initial module and inverter selections. The software quickly lays out all of the panels across the available space based on the calculated shade of the obstructions.
One of the greatest time savings that PVComplete offers lies in the ease of redesigning a solar array layout.
“If you no longer have the original solar modules that were scoped in a project, then another module needs to be selected. They are a slightly different size, so the person using AutoCAD would, in the past, have to restring and re-layout everything because the module size has changed. With PVComplete and the cloud database, you can just pick a different module, and swap it out. That’s where the PVComplete users get 300% time savings. Manual processes are error prone. PVComplete reduces these types of errors,” said Eyzaguirre.
The software lets you quickly compare panels that are laid out in portrait or landscape and easily determine which design is optimal for your project. It is critical to generate the most energy for the least amount of materials and cost, and PVComplete lets users of all backgrounds compare multiple arrangements in seconds – a task that has traditionally been measured in days.
Once the design is complete, PVComplete exports a bill of materials, including an accurate estimate of the amount of wiring required.
PVComplete is currently focused on the commercial market. They intend to provide a simplified version of their tools for the residential market next year.
To make access to the product even easier, PVComplete has a partnership with AutoDesk, the makers of AutoCAD, and provides AutoCAD bundled with PVComplete on their website. Rather than buying an AutoCAD license and buying PVComplete as a separate add-on, designers can purchase both as a single license.