Solar installations are becoming a no-brainer for anyone with a roof across much of the country. However, getting an estimate of how much it would cost and how much juice it would make can be tricky and time consuming. Aurora Solar went through an automated process to do this and, as a result, attracted $ 20 million in funding.
A big part of the uncertainty someone has about installing solar energy is the initial cost and the return on investment. A visit to the site can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for a commercial property, or that cost can add up to the overall charge. But why send someone when all the data you need can be acquired in bulk from the air?
Aurora uses lidar data for this, but not the kind of lidar where you have to fly a drone with the instrument over the house. That would hardly be less expensive and time consuming than a normal visit. Instead, they use lidar collected by small aircraft making low-altitude passes over the city.
The resulting data (you can see it above) produces detailed 3D models of the terrain and all the buildings on it; The exact size and slope of a roof can be determined with high precision. In fact, it is similar to the way archaeologists used it to map out an ancient Mayan metropolis.
There are some programs and services that conduct virtual site visits, but many simply estimate your roof area and orientation by looking at satellite images. That’s good for a basic estimate, but Aurora uses multiple data sources to create a detailed 3D map of your roof, and is proud of its results.
“From the beginning, we have been very ambitious in the way that we approach the problem, probably since we face the same problems that our customers face,” said co-founder Christopher Hopper in an email to TechCrunch. That would have been in 2012, when he and his co-founder Samuel Adeyemo experienced significant friction with a solar installation in East Africa. They found that the installation itself was very easy, but planning and designing the system took months.
“Aurora pioneered the concept of ‘remote site visits’, which allows solar installers to accurately calculate how many solar panels will fit on a property and how much energy they produce without traveling to the site,” said Hopper. “We have a large dataset of LIDAR data preloaded in the application that is accessible to our users. We estimate that that covers about 2/3 of the population of the United States. “
This and other data allows Aurora to create a detailed CAD model of the building in just a few minutes, and generate a basic plan for solar cell placement, as well as slope, exposure, and any shading obstacles, such as chimneys or trees. close. (Shadow reports are usually done in person and are required to receive certain discounts.)
From there, users can go directly into the sales and financing process, even with line diagrams for the electrical system they will build. And, in theory, everything can take less than an hour, which is probably the amount of time you would spend on the phone trying to get a local solar installer out.
Round A was led by Energize Ventures, whose managing director Amy Francetic will join the board of directors, with S28 and seed investor Pear also contributing.
One good thing about companies that rely on data and automation: They scale well. So Aurora won’t need to buy a thousand new trucks to get her next thousand customers, instead she must hire engineers, sales and support staff, which is exactly what she plans to do.
“We look forward to expanding all functions in our organization,” said Hopper. “We are particularly excited about all the things we can do on the product side and in customer success. And finally, this funding means that we are here to stay. For companies [i.e. Aurora’s clients] who depend on a software provider for their day-to-day operations, this is an important factor. “
Adeyemo notes in the press release announcing the funding that “the solar professional” is the “fastest growing occupation in the US”. Hopefully making things easier for the customer will keep it that way for a while.
Disclosure: Former TechCruncher Rahul Nihalani now works for Aurora. Rahul is great, but this doesn’t affect our coverage.