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  • Writer's pictureMarkus Virta

A Detailed Comparison of the Major PV Solar Shade Design Tools

As the solar energy industry continues to grow, solar shade design tools have become indispensable for professionals designing and optimizing photovoltaic (PV) systems.

These tools help assess the impact of shading on the system's performance and energy output, enabling users to make informed decisions about system design and layout.


In this blog post, we will compare and contrast five major solar shade design tools in the industry: PVsyst, Helioscope, Aurora Solar, Solmetric SunEye, and Solar Pathfinder.


1. PVsyst: Developed by PVsyst SA, PVsyst is a comprehensive solar PV system design software widely recognized for its accuracy and versatility. It offers a range of features, including detailed shading analysis, performance simulation, and energy yield prediction.

Pros:

  • Comprehensive analysis: PVsyst offers in-depth analysis of shading and its impact on system performance, accounting for various factors like terrain, nearby objects, and solar panel orientation.

  • Accurate simulations: PVsyst is known for its accurate energy yield predictions and system performance simulations, helping users make informed decisions on PV system design.

  • Versatility: PVsyst supports a wide range of PV system configurations and is suitable for residential, commercial, and utility-scale projects.

Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve: PVsyst's comprehensive features may require a longer learning curve for new users.

  • Desktop-based: PVsyst is a desktop-based software, which can limit collaboration and accessibility for users who prefer cloud-based tools.

2. Helioscope: Folsom Labs' Helioscope is a cloud-based solar design tool that combines 3D modeling, shading analysis, and system layout optimization. It is popular among solar professionals for its intuitive interface and ability to manage larger utility scale projects.

Pros:

  • Large scale modeling (utility scale) down to small commercial or residential scale modeling.

  • Cloud-based: Being a cloud-based tool, Helioscope allows users to work collaboratively and access their projects from anywhere.

  • Rapid system design: Helioscope enables quick design iterations and system layout optimization, reducing the time needed for project completion.

Cons:

  • User interface: Helioscope offers a fairly intuitive interface that is relatively easy to learn and navigate, making it suitable for both novice and experienced users. However, it fails to provide the most accurate modeling in the industry landing its UI in the con column this time.

  • Lack of LIDAR integration and poorer module level performance expectations that are included in their competitors products.

  • Limited customization: Helioscope may lack some advanced customization options available in more comprehensive tools like PVsyst.

  • Subscription pricing: Helioscope operates on a subscription pricing model, which may not be ideal for users who prefer one-time purchases.

3. Aurora Solar: Aurora Solar is a popular cloud-based solar design and sales software that streamlines the entire PV system design process, from initial assessment to installation. It integrates LIDAR data, 3D modeling, shading analysis, and performance simulations. The use of high-resolution LIDAR data sets Aurora Solar apart from its competitors, providing unparalleled accuracy and precision for site modeling and shading analysis.

Pros:

  • All-in-one platform: Aurora Solar combines design, sales, and project management features, making it an ideal solution for solar professionals managing multiple aspects of their projects.

  • Impressive LIDAR data: Aurora Solar's utilization of high-resolution LIDAR data for accurate site modeling and shading analysis is a standout feature that significantly improves the accuracy of system performance predictions.

  • Sales and proposal tools: Aurora Solar includes a robust set of sales and proposal tools, allowing users to create professional, customized proposals for clients quickly.

Cons:

  • Price: Aurora Solar's comprehensive feature set comes with a higher price tag compared to some of its competitors, which may be a barrier for small businesses or individual users.

  • Aurora's modeling engine is designed primarily for residential applications as such it can slow down considerably when building system sizes larger than 500kW.

  • Limited offline functionality: As a cloud-based tool, Aurora Solar requires an internet connection for most functionalities, which can be a limitation in areas with unreliable connectivity.

4. Solmetric SunEye: The Solmetric SunEye is a handheld electronic tool designed for on-site solar shading analysis. It combines digital photography with an integrated fisheye lens, compass, inclinometer, and GPS to provide accurate shading measurements.

Pros:

  • Portability: The SunEye's handheld design makes it convenient for on-site shading analysis and data collection.

  • Accurate measurements: SunEye provides precise shading measurements by combining digital photography with built-in sensors and GPS data.

  • Easy to use: The SunEye offers a user-friendly interface and doesn't require extensive training, making it accessible to a broad range of users.

Cons:

  • Limited software integration: SunEye's shading data may need manual input into other solar design software, which could be time-consuming.

  • SunEye's fish eye lens makes it less accurate if not perfectly level when the measurement is taken.

  • Hardware dependency: The SunEye is a physical device, making it prone to wear and tear or potential damage on-site.

5. Solar Pathfinder: The Solar Pathfinder is a physical tool used for on-site solar shading analysis. It consists of a reflective convex dome and a sun path diagram that visually captures shading information from the surroundings.

Pros:

  • Low cost: The Solar Pathfinder is a cost-effective option for solar professionals looking for a simple shading analysis tool.

  • No power required: As a purely mechanical device, the Solar Pathfinder doesn't require a power source, making it convenient for on-site use.

  • Simple operation: The Solar Pathfinder is easy to use, with minimal training required.

Cons:

  • Manual data entry: Shading data from the Solar Pathfinder must be manually input into solar design software, which can be time-consuming.

  • Lack of module level performance optimization modeling.

  • Less precise measurements: The Solar Pathfinder may not provide the same level of accuracy as electronic tools like the Solmetric SunEye.

Conclusion


Selecting the right solar shade design tool depends on factors like ease of use, accuracy, available features, and pricing. PVsyst, Helioscope, Aurora Solar, Solmetric SunEye, and Solar Pathfinder each offer unique advantages and drawbacks. However, in today's fast-paced solar industry, it is crucial to consider a hybrid approach that leverages both onsite and remote analysis tools for optimal system design and performance.


While software-based tools like PVsyst, Helioscope, and Aurora Solar provide comprehensive remote analysis capabilities, onsite tools like Solmetric SunEye and Solar Pathfinder offer invaluable real-world measurements and insights. Combining the strengths of remote design tools with the precision of onsite shading analysis can help solar professionals achieve a more accurate understanding of the impact of shading on PV system performance. This hybrid approach allows for a more robust design process that considers both the granular details captured by onsite tools and the broader perspective provided by remote analysis.


The best solar shade design strategy will depend on your specific needs and preferences. By understanding the benefits of each tool and embracing a hybrid approach that combines their strengths, you can make informed decisions that best suit your project requirements and optimize your PV system's performance.


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- Markus and Callum


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