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San Francisco-based Aurora Solar, which taps a combination of lidar sensor data, computer-assisted design, and computer vision to streamline solar panel installations, today announced a $50 million raise. The company says it will leverage the funds to accelerate hiring across all teams and ramp up development of new features and services for solar installers and solar sales consultants.
Despite recent setbacks, solar remains a bright spot in the still-emerging renewable energy sector. In the U.S., the solar market is projected to top $22.9 billion by 2025, driven by falling materials costs and growing interest in offsite and rooftop installations. Moreover, in China — the world’s leading installer of solar panels and the largest producer of photovoltaic power — 1.84% of the total electricity generated in the country two years ago came from solar.
Stanford University graduates Samuel Adeyemo and Christopher Hopper teamed up to cofound Aurora in 2013 after a frustrating experience commissioning a solar project for a school in East Africa. While the panels themselves only took weeks to install, planning — conducting research, calculating financials, and designing the system — dragged on for six months.
So the pair devised SmartRoof, which allows solar installers to create 3D CAD models of construction sites and forecast not only how many panels will fit on the properties, but the amount of power they will produce and the potential energy savings. It’s a bit like Google’s Project Sunroof, a geographic search engine anyone can use to discover the potential for solar energy collection in their home, albeit more sophisticated.
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SmartRoof launched in 2015 following two years of development and validation tests with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, according to Hopper. The process begins with modeling, using Aurora’s CAD software. Designers trace roof outlines over satellite images augmented with lidar data and use built-in edge detection tools to ensure they’re up to spec. From there, designers are able to simulate obstructions (like trees) impacting the panels’ sunlight exposure or sun paths and use that data to extrapolate power consumption at various times of the year.
In September, Aurora launched a range of tools to size battery backup systems and make recommendations based on homeowners’ needs. The software dynamically factors in how much power will be produced by a solar system, the amount of load to be backed up, and the number of batteries and inverters selected. Aurora VP Justin Durack said the product team spent months researching and designing the toolset from the ground up.
Aurora’s platform also allows planners to plot out solar panel sites manually, using drag-and-drop components for things like modules, wiring, connections, combiner boxes, and ground mounts, or to generate site designs on the fly algorithmically. No matter the method, Aurora converts the resulting 3D measurements into 2D single line and layout diagrams while performing hundreds of checks for National Electric Code (NEC) compliance.
There’s a sales piece, too. Aurora’s solution uses system performance to model loans, leases, and cash payments and boasts proposal-building tools that let companies import calculations and other information from the project into polished, presentation-ready decks.
Aurora claims the irradiance reports it produces are statistically equivalent to onsite measurements for any location in the world and are certified compliant with the National Electric Code (NEC). Moreover, the company says it is accepted by rebate authorities, including the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), Energy Trust of Oregon, New Jersey Clean Energy Fund, Oncor, and Connecticut Green Bank. In March, the California Energy Commission approved Aurora for solar panel installation on new homes.
Aurora operates on a subscription model and offers several options: a $135 per user per month basic tier; a $220 premium tier that adds things like lidar-assisted modeling, NEC validation, and single line diagrams; and a variably priced enterprise tier for “organizations that quote thousands of systems per month.”
As of October 2020, over 4 million commercial and residential solar installations had been designed with Aurora’s technology, a number that has grown at a rate of 200,000 projects every month. The company notched 1 million project installations in the last six months alone, coinciding with the start of the pandemic.
“While hardware costs have come down significantly over the last decade, the soft costs of installing solar have remained stubbornly sticky, and this is where Aurora comes in,” Topper told VentureBeat via email. “Aurora’s technology is helping solar professionals accurately design solar projects at scale and eliminating site visits, thus driving down the cost of solar energy systems for homeowners across the U.S. and internationally.”
Aurora’s series B round announced today was led by Iconiq Growth, with participation from existing investors Energize Ventures, Fifth Wall, and Pear VC. This brings the company’s total raised to $70 million.
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