Solar Software is accelerating solar installation and expanding adoption. Derek Mitchell, founder and creator of SolarDesignTool, set out to revolutionize solar integration. Derek and his partner, Michael Palmguist, received a SunShot Initiative grant for their company, Solar Nexus, with the aim of tackling the soft costs associated with solar installation. They used the grant to develop the industry’s first integrated software system aimed at reducing administrative time to sell and manage projects.
Derek Mitchell, founder and creator of SolarDesignTool
In a candid interview, Derek shares how solar software can drive down costs, increase adoption, and modernize the way consumers interact with solar.
What led you to develop SolarDesignTool Software?
Derek: We saw a lot of wasted time and money with the solar installation permit process. Ultimately, this was a deterrent to solar adoption. Originally, a contractor designed a system, created a preliminary sales design, and presented it to the customer. If they sold the system, they'd need to enhance the presentation to a fully engineered, permit-ready design that included calculations and code requirements. To complete this requirement, the contractor paid someone to create the permit package and manage the process. Ten years ago, when I first joined the solar industry, this process was done by a draftsman for about $600 per permit package and a week of wait time. The process was time consuming and expensive.
What challenges did you face developing the software?
Derek: We set out to solve a difficult problem, because it requires PV experience and programming skills. We built our business over time without any other major investor money. We didn’t want to become a part of the solar coaster. You have to constantly shift your business model to the changing market, which can get expensive. In solar, you have to be familiar with the products out there in addition to tech to remain relevant and that can be challenging.
What are some current trends in the industry that you’re paying attention to?
Derek: I’m interested in household control over energy consumption. When individuals produce their own energy, with the potential to sell it, the wealth that comes from energy production becomes democratized. Rather than wealth only held by power plants, it can be in the hands of any household. A key contributor to that opportunity is bringing the cost of solar installation down.
Of course, the conflict between the solar industry and traditional utility companies continues. The grid is geared toward a centralized system, with the power company as the sole distributer. Solar changes that business model, which requires a change in infrastructure to support the new model. It’s a huge cost to upgrade the grid to support the new model, but if customers are producing their own energy and selling it to each other, it makes the power company less necessary and disrupts the market, driving the need for infrastructure change. I find this fundamental shift of power, pun intended, to be very exciting.
How does SolarDesignTool fit in with the new solar business model?
Derek: By driving down the soft costs associated with the permit process, our tool makes it easier on independent contractors to install solar by eliminating the logistical costs of retaining a permit. This, in term, makes solar more accessible to everyone, increasing solar adoption rates, and driving a demand for change to the current infrastructure. Everyone wins.
Large solar installation project management is a delicate and detailed assignment. Boviet Solar USA is proud to encourage state-of-the-art solar software initiatives to increase adoption rates. For questions on how new solar technology tools can enhance your project, reach out to our consulting team.