Can Custom Solar Design Be User-Friendly?

An online service allows people to easily design their own solar system for free and figure out how much energy they'll be able to produce.

For property owners who want to go solar, the first step is breaking down the finances of the switch. It’s harder than it seems: A messy web of tax incentives—at the local, state, regional, and federal levels—awaits, and figuring out the return on investment is tricky. The complexity can be a barrier to entry for potential solar users who don’t want to deal or pay someone else a fee to do it for them, and could prevent casually interested homeowners from shifting to solar.

SOLarchitect, a New Orleans-based startup, has proposed a potential solution to the problem, creating an online service to let people easily design their own solar system for free and figure out how much energy they'll be able to produce. "Assessing your home’s solar potential now becomes as easy as ordering a pizza online," says co-founder Alex Landau, an architect at a local solar company who started the project on the side. The service will allow users to look at an image of their home (for example, the Playboy Mansion above), drag and drop solar panels onto the roof, and determine the tax credit and potential energy savings based on the home’s location. When the estimate is completed, SOLArchitect will bring in bids from up to three contractors in the area (for a commission) who could install the system.

Landau says that for now, the company is focusing on creating a tool for industry professionals (Landau's firm is already using the tool), but he hopes to launch a consumer-focused platform later in the year. He now has $50,000 in seed money to work with, thanks to SOLarchitect’s victory at a crowdfunding event on Friday at New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week, where 1,000 micro-investors voted for their favorite startup to receive the cash.

Image via SOLarchitect

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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