By Jason Steinberg
98 percent of residential and commercial solar contractors will conduct an onsite technical visit for a project before construction to collect data and verify measurements. As a result, solar surveyors go on the roof. Yet, safety isn’t something solar professionals like to openly talk about. We tacitly assume that if you can get on the roof, you should, and if you can’t, you probably shouldn’t take the job. We also all have our personal fears when on or around a roof: for me, it’s the moment when I have to step off the roof and back onto the ladder. Other solar professionals have anxiety around walking on the ridge, navigating poor shingle conditions, or dealing with steep pitches.
Here’s the thing: if we want to innovate and grow as an industry - even if only to keep up with exploding demand - we have to talk about safety.
The job of a solar surveyor is one of the most physically taxing out there - a fact I remembered after seeing a job description with following requirements:
This reads more like a job posting for Cirque du Soleil than a solar surveyor.
When asked about safety on the job, a majority (59.5 percent) of solar surveyors reported feeling never fully safe (42.5 percent) or rarely safe (17 percent) climbing on a roof. Further, being on the roof didn’t even guarantee quality: 86 percent of respondents said incorrect data collection is the most common issue they face with a manual survey process.
Thinking back to some of the roofs I’ve been on, you could fall any minute doing these physical tasks. Ideally, you’d harness in, but it’s so time consuming and damaging to the customer’s home that many people don’t do it: less than a third (29.7 percent) said they harness into every roof. The same amount said they never harness into roofs. And 27 percent said they harness in only occasionally.
And to no surprise, 76 percent of surveyors reported taking shortcuts when working alone and 58 percent of surveyors reported dropping tools off the roof.
Speed, accuracy, and cost reductions are core goals we hear about from solar contractors; safety is also essential. Accidents - ranging from dropping tools to falling off the roof - are not only traumatizing for the surveyor and their family, but also for a homeowner witnessing the incident. Just like one bad change order can ruin a solar contractor’s reputation, so too can a significant onsite accident.
Further, we’re facing a talent crunch: according to the Solar Foundation’s census, job growth has flattened in recent years and the number of people who can physically do a solar surveyor job is limited. If we want to build resiliency in solar, we need to minimize dangerous physical tasks.
Flying drones solves all these problems. The vast majority of roofs can be surveyed using a drone camera. Drone-based solar software maintains accuracy of 2-3 inches and drones can be 5x more efficient than manual surveys. This single shift means not only that you can do more surveys to meet increased demand, but the labor pool of viable candidates becomes much larger, since climbing on the roof won’t be necessary in the vast majority of cases. And for those without a drone now, training for the requisite licensing and flying can take less than 7 days.
If you want to bring your business into the 21st century, you can’t ignore safety. Thankfully, new innovations with drone technology handle safety problems for you, automatically.
Jason Steinberg is the CEO of Scanifly, the only droned-based solar software focused on streamlining the surveying and design stages of a solar project's workflow. The platform uses drones, 3D-modeling and AI to automate the development of residential, commercial and small utility scale solar projects of all types.
Scanifly | scanifly.com