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Solar for New Construction | Solar design tips, sales advice, and industry insights from the premier solar design software platform

How Gippsland Solar Won a Unique New Construction Solar Deal

Posted by Lisa Cohn on Oct 8, 2019 8:49:08 PM

For Andy McCarthy, founder of Gippsland Solar, integrating 666 solar panels into the design for the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre in Australia posed a big challenge. That’s because at the time Gippsland Solar was bidding for the project, the Centre’s new building had not yet been built!

The new building, which houses 1,800 square meters of interpretation and public spaces, replaced an existing building and featured an unusual roof shape for the internationally renowned center.

Using functionality in Aurora Solar software, Gippsland solar won the project. In this article, McCarthy shares the process and insights on how you too can put in place a winning system for designing solar for new buildings.

Gippsland Solar’s design for Penguin Parade Visitor Centre, a new construction solar project like the CA solar mandate requires. Gippsland Solar’s PV design for the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre in Australia as the building neared completion. Photo Credit: Kane Construction, courtesy of Gippsland Solar.

The Challenge of Designing Solar for a Building Not Yet Built

The challenge: All Gippsland Solar had to work with were the architectural plans. Because the building did not yet exist, it wasn’t possible to physically measure the roof and calculate how many panels would be required, or to measure irradiance to determine how it would affect solar production and where best to place panels.

What’s more, it was difficult to communicate to the client what the building would look like once the solar panels were added. With a building as high-profile as the Penguin Parade Visitors Centre, aesthetics were an important issue. “It was an interesting project because of the Centre’s global recognition,” says McCarthy.

In addition, without a physical building, it wasn’t easy to calculate how nearby trees or other buildings would shade the roof throughout the year.

In the case of the visitor center, the challenge was more difficult than most new construction solar projects.

A Unique Roof for an Internationally Recognized Visitor Center

“The roof almost looks like shards of glass cut in different angles; it’s spectacular,” says McCarthy. “The building has lots of innovation and design and has won sustainability awards.”

Viewed from above, the building’s shape is similar to an unwieldy star, with many different roof points and angles. “Due to the architecture of the building, it was a very complex roof to work with,” McCarthy says.

At first, McCarthy and his associates tried adding solar panels to the architectural plans. “It didn’t look good,” he says. It was back to the drawing board. McCarthy needed a tool that would communicate to the potential client exactly how the building would look with solar panels.

Finding a Solution to Design Solar for New Construction: Aurora Solar Software

Next, Gippsland Solar turned to Aurora Solar’s solar software and tried the design again. “We took the electronic version of the building plans and uploaded them into Aurora,” he explains. They took the measurement of the longest section of the roof from the architectural plans, then manually entered that measurement into Aurora program.

The software is smart enough to take that information and calculate the rest of the dimensions of the roof, McCarthy explains. In fact, from that information, Aurora’s SmartRoof technology created a 3-D model of the roof.

Next, based on the information in the roof plans, McCarthy and associates increased the roof pitch to 11 degrees. “That was the pitch of the roof,” he explains. “We didn’t see any financial benefit in using tilt frames to adjust the pitch, and the architects were very clear that they didn’t want the solar array to have a visual impact on the building itself,” he says.

What happened next surprised them. In the model, it looked like the building was being built. “I had never seen anything like that,” he says. “It almost looked like paper mache. In the model you see the building rise up.” The model allowed for a 360-degree view of the building.

It took about half an hour to build the model using the software, McCarthy says. He’s sure that using the program helped his company get the job.

Aurora solar makes it easy to design solar for new construction projects like this one by Gippsland SolarA top-down view of Gippsland Solar’s PV design for the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre in Australia. Photo Credit: Kane Construction, courtesy of Gippsland Solar.
Aurora Solar supports both residential and commercial solar design and sales.  Learn more in a free demo.

New Buildings Pose Challenges, Opportunities for Solar

Designing solar for new buildings like the Penguin Parade Visitors Centre poses challenges, and more and more solar companies are grappling with this challenge. But it’s not necessarily bad news.

Because states and cities are calling for solar panels in new construction, the market for solar is increasing. For example, beginning in 2020, California mandates solar panels on all new homes under the state building code. As a result, solar demand is expected to jump by more than 800 MW between 2020 and 2023.

Under the new California solar mandate, builders must either build homes with solar panels, or build a shared solar power system that provides solar energy to a group of homes.

Additionally, cities all over the U.S. are calling for solar on new buildings. Watertown, Massachusetts now requires solar on new commercial buildings larger than 10,000 square feet and on all new residential buildings with ten or more units.

With the market increasing for new construction solar, it’s a good idea to have a tool that speeds up the process.

3 Simple Steps to Designing Solar for New Construction (Buildings Not Yet Built)

1. Begin by Uploading Roof Plans

When designing a solar installation for a new (not yet constructed) building using Aurora software, the most important step is to upload the roof plans. With that as your starting point, outline the perimeter of the roof—just as you would draw over a satellite or aerial image when using Aurora to design solar for an existing building.

You’ll need to include a measure for at least one section of the roof as indicated in the plans. This data allows Aurora to correctly scale the 3D model and ensure accurate measurements for the remaining sections. It’s also important to indicate the pitch of different roof planes according to the architects’ plans, since there will not be 3D LIDAR data for Aurora to match the roof to if the building is not yet constructed.

From there, Aurora’s SmartRoof technology will extrapolate the 3D structure of the rest of the building. If your designers need to make tweaks the building model, the program will respond by re-calculating and re-modeling, McCarthy explains.

2. Simulate Shading During Different Times of Day, Year

Another important feature of the Aurora software is the Sun Path simulation, which can do an interactive shade simulation. “When you play the simulation, you can see how certain parts of the roof will be shaded during certain times of day and can play with the design and move panels to less shady areas,” McCarthy explains.

With a colorful irradiance map, the software will tell you how much irradiance will reach the panels at any given point on the roof.

Adding trees to see how they will shade the roof of new buildings is also important, he says. By creating multiple versions of your design with different tree heights you can virtually “grow” young trees to see how they will shade the roof as they mature.

How Will Other Buildings Affect Shading?

Along with modeling the effect of trees, designers should simulate how nearby buildings affect shading, McCarthy says.

For example, in another new construction solar project, Gippsland Solar added solar to a school that was built in two stages. To do this, the company used Aurora to model the second section of the building and see how it would affect the first section—and vice versa.

Company designers did all the modeling before designing the first building. “We ran a shade analysis of both the old and new buildings,” he says.

3. Close the Sale with Stunning Visuals

Such modeling saves time, impresses clients, and also saves money, says McCarthy. It makes sense to avoid trying to overlay solar panels on architectural designs--and to choose instead design software.

“Aurora is a fraction of the cost of 3-D simulations with architects’ software,” he says. “People need to build this into their sales pitches. It helped us get the job.”

As the market for solar on new construction grows, so too will the need for scalable, accurate solutions for designing solar for buildings that have not yet been built if your company wants to tap into this market.

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Topics: solar design, Solar for New Construction

Solar for New Construction: Solutions to Enter a Key Emerging Market

Posted by Gwen Brown on Mar 4, 2019 12:51:59 PM

Traditionally, for rooftop solar installations, solar is added on to an existing building. But a vast new solar market is emerging in recent years: solar for new construction.

In fact, in California alone—where the state building code will require solar on all new homes starting in 2020—solar demand is expected to increase by over 800 MW from 2020-2023 due to this market. This regulatory trend is not just limited to California, however.

Cities from Arizona to Florida have made similar solar requirements. Watertown, Massachusetts moved to require solar on new commercial buildings larger than 10,000 square feet and all new residential structures with ten or more units. Other jurisdictions may roll out similar policies as cities and states around the country make increasingly aggressive commitments to clean energy.

This is great news for solar contractors. But to access this new class of customers, solar contractors need new solar design and sales strategies. Traditional methods tailored to existing buildings fall short in several key ways.

In this article, we highlight the ways that solar design for new construction differs from traditional solar design. We also share real strategies and tools for designing and selling stunning solar arrays for new buildings—whether residential or commercial—so you can confidently pursue opportunities in this new market segment.

See how your solar contracting business can work smarter with Aurora.

How is Solar Design for New Construction Different from Traditional Solar Design?

Designing solar for a building that’s not yet built differs from traditional solar design in three key ways.

  1. Without an existing building, it can be difficult to know how many solar panels will fit on the roof or other parts of the site and determine the best location for the array.
  2. To determine how much energy the solar installation will produce—and whether solar is even a viable option—it is critical to understand how much shade will fall on different parts of the site. This assessment is complicated by the lack of an existing building.
  3. Finally, without imagery of an existing building, salespeople need new options to communicate to the customer what the solar design will look like.

Fortunately, there are solar software tools contractors can utilize to overcome these barriers.

Designing Solar for New Construction: Overcoming the Challenges

Let’s explore the three critical differences in solar design and sales for new construction versus existing buildings, and the solutions solar contractors can employ to enter this new market.

Challenge 1: Determining the Appropriate PV System Size and Location

How do you determine the best locations for solar panels and the number that will fit on a roof when the building you’ll put them on doesn’t exist yet? Naturally, traditional approaches based on on-site measurements or remote site assessment using satellite imagery are not an option.

Fortunately, with the right solar software solar contractors can import roof plans or blueprints to serve as the basis of creating a virtual 3D model of the project site. With an accurate site model, contractors can easily determine how many solar panels will fit on different roof faces and get a better sense of where it would make sense to locate an array.

Aurora solar design software allows users to import roof plans and blueprints which can be used to design a solar array. Aurora Solar allows you to import roof plans of a future building, scale them to an accurate size, and situate them on the property. From there, it’s easy to create an accurate 3D model of the building on which to design a solar installation and accurately estimate it’s energy production. This allows solar contractors to enter the fast-growing market of solar for new homes and buildings.

In Aurora’s solar software, solar contractors can upload the roof plan as an image and then scale it to the correct size based on the specified dimensions in the building plan. Since there is not yet an address for most of these new construction sites, the contractor can input the geographic coordinates of the project to situate it in the actual location where it will be built.

One of the things Aurora Solar has pioneered that makes this process much simpler is SmartRoof, a design tool that infers the 3D structure of a building based on the 2D outline of the roof. Adjustments can be made to ensure the inferences match the roof plan, but the manual work needed to create an accurate 3D model on which to design the solar array is significantly reduced.

SmartRoof, a tool from Aurora Solar, makes it easier for solar contractors to create models of their project sites.Aurora’s SmartRoof tool infers the 3D structure of a roof based on its perimeter, streamlining the solar design process.

Additionally, Aurora’s ruler tool—which provides measurements of different parts of the project and site model—makes it easy to double-check that the site model matches the construction plans.

See how Aurora helps solar companies grow revenue, cut costs, and impress their  customers!

Challenge 2: Assessing shading and solar access values

Perhaps the biggest challenge of designing a solar installation for a building that has not yet been constructed is getting an accurate understanding of how much solar energy will be available on different parts of the roof or surrounding property.

As we explain in our blog post on how irradiance is calculated, any structure that may cast a shadow at any time throughout the year—from a chimney to a nearby tree—can impact the solar irradiance on the site. Without accurate solar access values and shade measurements, you cannot accurately estimate how much energy the solar installation will produce. Fortunately, Aurora makes it simple to accurately calculate all of these values.

 An example of an irradiance map, generated by Aurora. Brighter colors indicate greater solar irradiance. An example of an irradiance map, generated by Aurora. Brighter colors indicate greater solar irradiance.

Because geographic coordinates are used to situate the site model in its real future location, you can review satellite imagery of the property to identify and model trees and surrounding objects that may impact the amount of sunlight that reaches the roof. Additionally, actual local weather data is used in simulating how much energy the system will produce.

With the creation of a precise 3D model of the future building and other features of the project site, Aurora can simulate the movement of shadows on the site for every hour of the year and give precise irradiance values for each part of the site. This approach allows you to be confident in the accuracy of your energy production and utility bill savings estimates for the project.

Challenge 3: Visually showcase the solar design for the buyer

A further challenge of designing solar for new construction applies at the sales stage. How do you show the customer what the design will look like? The aesthetics of the solar design are likely to be a significant concern for the prospective customer, especially in the residential market.

An example of a 3D model of a future home as rendered in Aurora solar software. These kinds of visuals can help the customer understand what your solar design will look like.An example of a 3D model of a future home as rendered in Aurora solar software. These kinds of visuals can help the customer understand what your solar design will look like and feel more comfortable knowing how it will impact the aesthetics of the building.

As the home construction and solar markets intersect in California—where new homes will be required to have solar starting in 2020—other players like architects and home builders will also need tools to present solar information including the appearance of the building.

To see how Aurora makes this easy, sign up for a free demo to see the software in action!


Without being able to visualize how solar will affect the appearance of their future building, the customer may be more hesitant about a solar purchase. Fortunately, creating a realistic 3D model of the project and site makes it easy to showcase and sell your solar design.

Aurora offers a variety of compelling and customizable solar sales proposal templates. You can include a variety of different views of the solar project to help them feel at ease with the appearance of the project you’ve designed.

Building upon the approaches we pioneered to enable accurate remote solar design, Aurora Solar is delivering solutions that let solar contractors effectively serve the emerging solar market for new buildings.

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 To learn more about solar design for new construction, with live demonstrations of the processes discussed above, join our webinar with PV Magazine on March 20, 2019 at 10AM Pacific Standard Time/1PM Eastern Standard Time!

Upcoming Webinar March 20, 2019: Solar Design for New Construction with PV Magazine 
You can also check out our past webinar with Solar Power World, which explores this topic from the perspective of California’s Title 24 mandate of solar on new homes.

Topics: solar design, Solar for New Construction

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