Solar at a Megawatt a Minute
When we introduced Instant Design at Google Next ’19 in San Francisco, we wanted to change how homeowners go solar. Visitors to sunpower.com now use SunPower Design Studio, the first application featuring SunPower’s patent-pending Instant Design technology, to create thousands of home solar designs per week. They’re twice as likely to purchase a SunPower system compared to homeowners who use our standard savings calculator and online forms. We’re well on our way to helping the 100 million future solar homeowners in the United States realize their potential.
Next, our team set out to transform how business and government go solar. The United States alone has billions of square feet of commercial roofs that are flat, unobstructed, and perfect for solar. This week at Google Next UK, I’m excited to share that our Instant Design technology now works for commercial buildings.
While we wish going solar could be reduced to choosing a small, medium or large system, every roof is different and no two solar installations are the same. Commercial buildings require custom designs to understand their true solar potential and maximize savings.
A typical commercial solar design can take anywhere from two hours to an entire day to create manually. If customers compare design options or request revisions based on building inspections, the solar sales and design process can take weeks.
With Instant Design, we’re dramatically simplifying the solar design process while providing realistic savings estimates. Just as we did for home solar, we’re combining machine learning, three-dimensional maps, and lightning-fast graphics processors to create solar designs automatically.
We can now design megawatts of solar in seconds. By shortening turnaround times and providing faster answers to building owners, we hope to demystify solar and share its many benefits more widely. We expect more businesses and organizations will go solar and put more panels on more roofs.
Automated design for commercial roofs
Our team faced a number of challenges extending the technology from residential to commercial applications. Of course, commercial roofs are usually much larger than residential roofs and have many, varied obstructions where we can’t place solar panels. Our software engineers parallelized calculations to create designs quickly, which incidentally improved speed for home solar designs, too. We trained machine learning algorithms to recognize new objects, including pipes and HVAC units, and account for national and local electric codes.
To test our technology, we chose a retail location in the Bay Area with a big, empty roof:
With Instant Design, we created a 1-megawatt solar design for the building in less than 60 seconds. The design isn’t perfect—we could have fit a few more solar panels—but it is sufficient to estimate the building’s solar potential and savings. Here it is:
The design includes a three-dimensional model of every roof surface, solar panel, and obstruction. We use the 3D model to estimate solar energy production and economics instantly. To underline the point, machine learning algorithms created this automatically in 60 seconds:
Our algorithms will continue to improve as they learn from the thousands of construction-ready designs we create every year. Here’s the manual solar design for the same building:
No more empty roofs
Instant Design can also help building owners who have solar and want to add more panels to increase savings. We found a manufacturing site in Hawthorne, Calif., with unused roof space in the shape of an “X” that would be perfect for more solar:
In just 30 seconds, we created a design that would add a megawatt of solar to the “dead space” on the building and surrounding roofs:
There are so many empty roofs perfect for solar. For the past few months, our internal analyst team has been using Instant Design to create quotes for building portfolios. One recent project required assessing the solar potential of 86 buildings in three weeks. In the past, the analyst team would have barely made the deadline, even pulling a few all-nighters. With Instant Design technology, the team assessed the portfolio and decided on the top 20 sites with the highest solar potential in less than two hours.
Solar, now faster than ever
SunPower has invested in Instant Design to change how the world goes solar. We were the first to create automatic solar designs when we launched Instant Design technology for homes in the United States. No other energy company has anything like it. Today, we’re again leading the industry by extending Instant Design to commercial buildings. We have patents pending for the inventions behind both the residential and commercial technology.
Our team will continue to invent. We’ll soon expand availability to our nationwide dealer network so that they, too, can create solar power systems for commercial buildings at record speed.
And what if everyone could design solar for their business, school, or local government? We plan to make commercial Instant Design accessible to all in the near future.
Stay tuned for even more solar at a megawatt a minute.