Drones and solar energy: What you need to know

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Ten years ago, if you were installing a rooftop solar system, one of your installer's first steps was to come to your house, climb up on your roof, and take a bunch of measurements and pictures to evaluate the project. However, this process is now starting to change with the rise of new technology: drones. Drones in solar have several advantages that make them appealing to homeowners and installers, including saving time and money for everyone involved. In this article, we'll look at how drones are used in solar projects and explore some major companies on the cutting edge of this technology.

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Key takeaways

  • Drones are changing the solar installation process by offering a safer, faster, and more reliable method for site surveys and inspections.

  • Drone technology can be used in multiple ways in the solar industry, from residential to utility-scale projects, and throughout the installation process, including surveys and inspections.

  • Adding a drone program is a fairly simple process for installers, and drone software companies like Scanifly, Loveland Innovations, and Raptor Maps will help along the way.

  • See what EnergySage installers offer when you get quotes through the EnergySage Marketplace.

Drones can be used in a few different ways throughout the solar industry. The primary use cases can be broken down into two categories: residential projects and utility-scale projects.

Residential projects

For residential projects, one of the most common use cases for drones is in surveying and system design. As previously mentioned, the traditional method for a site survey is to have a surveyor physically climb onto the roof of your house, collect all the necessary measurements by hand, and sketch out the roof plan on a sheet of paper. However, this approach has three main issues: it's dangerous for the installer, time-consuming, and, at times, inaccurate. Drones offer the chance to improve on each of these three issues.

With a drone survey, an installer will pilot the drone safely from the ground and fly it up and around the house, where it will take a series of pictures to construct a 3D computer model. Amazingly, the drone's flight only takes about eight minutes, representing a 90 percent decrease in typical onsite time! The model will have near-perfect measurements of the roof and will consider critical shading and azimuth (angular measurement) data, which will be used in your solar system's design. It's more accurate than other measurement techniques–like satellite and Lidar (light detection and ranging)–due to the camera's proximity to the house. Once the model is finished, engineers can work directly with it to design the system, and financiers can use it to determine the price–all without needing to climb on the roof!

Drones can also be used in other steps in the residential solar installation process. For example, during installation, drone footage can assist installers by detecting safety hazards, monitoring worker progress for optimal productivity, and providing aerial imaging and terrain mapping.

Utility-scale projects

Drones can provide value in a few ways with utility-scale solar projects. Unlike residential solar projects that often require rooftop surveys, utility-scale solar projects are almost always ground-based. Thus, while drones can monitor ongoing construction in utility-scale solar projects, they won't provide the same safety and accuracy benefits in residential projects. Instead, drones come into their own in the energy production monitoring of these vast solar projects.

Utility-scale solar projects are often spread out over large areas in harsh environments, and checking each panel for defects can take hours. With drones, pilots can cover the entire area in a fraction of the time, capture footage, and analyze thermal data for panel output anomalies. Energy production issues identified in checkups like these can save thousands of dollars (and kilowatt-hours).

Using drones provides many benefits to both installers and homeowners. For installers, the reduced time for surveying and design translates into more projects and increased revenue. While a surveyor can typically complete one to two properties daily without a drone, this number can jump to 11 to 12 properties with one, depending on the properties' proximity. Additionally, keeping surveyors off roofs creates safer working conditions, often lowering insurance costs.

For the homeowner, using drones means a faster and more accurate solar installation process, provided by the precision of 3D modeling. There's also a lower risk of complications later in the process from unforeseen issues or miscommunication between the surveyor and designer, as the drone footage will be available for everyone throughout the project.

Several companies are creating drone-based software for specialized use in solar. Some are more targeted toward residential project use, while others focus on a utility scale.


Scanifly is a major player in the residential space, selling solar design software to create and facilitate 3D modeling based on property surveys. They also have a training system that helps installers get FAA certified, purchase drones, and learn their software, all with the goal of empowering installers to build their own drone programs.

Loveland Innovations

Loveland Innovations offer similar services to Scanifly, with 3D modeling and analysis software for residential solar projects. The main difference between the two is that Loveland uses autopilot technology to fly the drones on a prearranged flight path without needing an expert pilot.

Raptor Maps

Raptor Maps focuses more on utility-scale solar, using machine learning technology to analyze thermal drone footage of large projects. This analysis lets owners pinpoint areas of concern and make data-driven decisions to improve electricity output and keep costs competitive.

Drones have an extremely promising future in the solar industry. On the residential side, they keep surveyors safely off the roof while enabling them to do their job quicker and more accurately. For utility-scale solar projects, they would allow companies to monitor the state of their projects more efficiently. As a result, drone technology is becoming increasingly preferred over traditional methods like hand measurements and SunEyes (handheld electronic tools) and even over more complex technology like Lidar. Expect more installers to use drones throughout their solar installation process in the coming months and years!

If you're interested in installing a solar system on your property, check out the EnergySage Marketplace to compare quotes from multiple installers. Are you hoping to find an installer with a drone program? While many installers haven't yet adopted this exciting new technology, if you're excited about drones, make a note in your EnergySage profile–you could be the reason for an installer to add a drone program!

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
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  • Access the lowest prices from installers near you
  • Unbiased Energy Advisors ready to help
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