Design Your Own Rooftop Solar Panels

How much would it cost to get you into solar power? You don’t have to wait for an estimate anymore. A new website lets you see exactly how much a system would cost.

When solar leasing company Sungevity quotes you a price for rooftop solar panels, it takes into account information from a system that uses aerial photography and satellite images to generate a rendering of a solar photovoltaic system, installation costs, and potential savings.

But that’s a proprietary system; there’s no simple way for homeowners to design their own solar panels online or figure out their cost. If there was an easy way to visualize panels on your roof, wouldn’t you start thinking just a little bit more about putting real panels on there?

The Playboy Mansion could save $4,904 each year with solar panels.

SOLarchitect, a New Orleans startup, just scored $50,000 during a New Orleans Entrepreneur Week competition for its product: a web application that lets users put virtual solar panels on their homes and automatically calculate energy savings and tax credits.

SOLarchitect theoretically makes money at the end of the virtual panel process, when users are offered three bids from local contractors to install the solar system. If one of the bids is accepted, SOLarchitect takes a cut.

The startup was part of the 2012 IDEAxcelerator, a New Orleans-based accelerator for local startups that helped participants with business plans and mentoring for six months. Other participants included a contaminated water treatment system and an IKEA design, delivery, and furniture-building service.

As we mentioned in a recent post, New Orleans has a burgeoning sustainable startup scene that was spurred at least partially by the environmental havoc that the city has endured in the past decade.

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  • Thomasryu2

    This tool sounds good. We can promote generalization of solar energy  by using this tool because people can easily access to install solar energy. consumers can estimate the price of the installation and consider the installed-figure in advance. 
    Also this idea can make a sub-industry of solar energy industry.
    And this idea can adjust to other renewable energy. 

  • Adrian Dyer

    "If there was an easy way to visualize panels on your roof, wouldn’t you start thinking just a little bit more about putting real panels on there?"

    Um ... no.What a come on! And, rather than pause a moment to consider this, the article just barrels along from there. Is Ariel Schwartz trying to be a journalist, or a marketer?

    Of course there are oodles of technical details that remote imaging applications overlook ... not even Sungevity finally prices a system without an onsite evaluation. They call their iQuote soft/firm ... rather like tofu.

    That said, the main thing software wont tell you is that debt is toxic. Sure, clean power is better than dirty power, but unless you PURCHASE a PV system with cash, you are buying into the debt bubble, er crisis.

    "SOLarchitect theoretically makes money at the end of the virtual panel process, when users are offered three bids from local contractors to install the solar system. If one of the bids is accepted, SOLarchitect takes a cut."

    CitiBank gets one, too.

    Does anyone even care who ends up owning all this equipment? In this climate, there is nothing sustainable or patriotic about supporting Banksters. Meanwhile, most homeowners (or home occupants, I should say, since almost no one really OWNS their home) could realize identical savings (or greater) by reducing waste.

    A journalist mght mention this. A marketer wouldn't. So what, at the end of the day, are we really promoting here, eh? More consumption? More waste? More debt?

    Gee, thanks.

  • Anders Hellum-Alexander

    This tools sounds great.

    There are a couple of larges problems though: 

    The homeowner that makes their own quote is unaware (and i don't think that this company has recorded all of the requirements in every county of the US) of a host of requirements coming from their local building department, utility and the organizations that are giving Solar incentives. Without knowing these things you are unable to know how you can place panels on the roof, and even if you can go solar. For example, NYCity has ample set back rules from certain points like the roof edge and Sacramento, CA has ample flood plains that disqualify someone from going Solar.

    Also, how is this tool going to give a relevant quote without knowing much about the pricing system of the Solar company and the property? For example if a customer needs a main service panel upgrade then the cost of going Solar greatly increases. And, I am not going to explain the complexities of Leasing, let's just say: its complicated.

    This tool might be good for encouraging homeowner's to get real quotes from Solar companies. But, in now way should someone accept the information from this tool as correct or relevant.

    This sounds like a standard lead generation tool that pretends to be something more.

  • Alex


    Some very good points! As an overall assessment, there is some truth to this-- ultimately, the homeowner will need to solidify their estimate by receiving multiple quotes from solar installers to get the most accurate and most competitive pricing. 

    Compared to other existing online solar estimators, nobody comes close to the precision or accuracy provided by SOLarchitect's panel-by-panel design mechanism. Not only can you move individual panels for obstructions, but that data that you're seeing is time-tested as being accurate. 

    There is a level of engagement needed from the homeowner to learn about those types of local restrictions-- SOLarchitect provides tutorials and tips in the design page to educate about these types of things, depending on where you live.

    As an installer, you can sit at the kitchen table with your iPad or laptop with the homeowner, pull up their initial design and work with them to find a solution that everyone feels comfortable with. It's more about facilitating that dialogue between professional and homeowner to streamline the solar design process.