Building A Solar Powerhouse: How Drones Helped Freedom Solar Expand
February 17, 2021
Josh Meade saw Freedom Solar grow from a startup to a multi-state enterprise. He’s been in solar energy long enough to know the “old” way of climbing on roofs and translating hand-drawn sketches into official solar plans. Now, Freedom Solar has fully embraced drone technology. As lead designer, he loves how it helps site assessors stay safe and how drones make his job easier and more accurate in the design and planning process.
Roofs, ladders, and hand drawings
When Josh started as a CAD Designer in 2013, solar assessments were a manual affair. Site assessors would climb on roofs with ladders and harnesses, sending hand-drawn sketches to him and the design team. Assessments often took hours and Josh would have to spend even more time turning hand-drawn sketches into official plans. The whole process limited Freedom Solar’s growth potential and made Josh’s job harder.
“We were struggling to keep up with site assessments doing it the manual way with ladders and hand measurements,” said Josh. “It takes an incredible amount of time to do that accurately.”
While the process of climbing a roof, getting drawings, and making plans sounds simple, the actual process is incredibly complicated without technology. The team regularly dealt with human error (it’s no one’s fault, it just happens) and delays. If one customer had multiple roof lines on their house, for instance, a site assessment could easily take two hours.
Josh said these delays meant Freedom Solar’s site assessors were limited to 2-3 assessments per day, at best.
“The manual way was a nightmare,” said Josh. “No matter how hard our site assessors worked, putting a sketch together when you’re on a 40-degree roof slant is difficult.”
Tripling efficiency and increasing safety with drones
The old method of climbing up on a ladder, getting manual drawings, and hoping a designer could decipher them became too much to handle. The company started looking for new solutions. Freedom Solar quickly found Scanifly and tried them out for their site assessments. The results were fast — and impactful.
“When we started using Scanifly, our team more than doubled the number of assessments we could do in a day,” said Josh. “Now, we’re at 6-7 per day where before we could only get 2-3 per day.”
Time savings came from two different avenues. First, there was no ladder to put up or no harness to drill into the side of someone’s house, so set up was much faster. Second, Scanifly takes pictures and measures automatically, saving time with a measuring tape.
Josh also said Designers loved it when site assessors used drones because measurements were more accurate than hand sketches. Further, Scanifly’s shade analysis automatically showed the best placement for panels without needing to manually research sun patterns. All of this meant the Design team could make plans that were both more accurate and faster to produce.
“Scanifly saved us a lot of time in the design department because we weren’t scratching our heads trying to make the measurements work,” said Josh.
A culture of putting customers first
One of Josh’s favorite things about working at Freedom Solar is the culture. He said the company worked hard to bring in people who care about solar and are experienced in their skill sets. While this hiring goal isn’t new, Freedom Solar takes it a step further: they work as hard as possible to make customers happy.
“We’ve grown a lot through word of mouth because we do whatever we can to make sure our customers are happy,” said Josh.
Freedom Solar’s desire to make customers happy goes back all the way to its founding. When the company started, it became a key distributor for high end SunPower solar panels. They knew that people getting into solar wanted quality, so they went through SunPower’s rigorous distributor testing standards to ensure they could deliver for customers. Over the years, both SunPower and Freedom Solar worked to bring costs down, helping them stay cost competitive even though they offer a high end product.
The future of solar is bright
When COVID pushed the company to work remotely in 2020, Josh said the team got even more efficient. The sales team loves taking video calls instead of driving out to every house. Similarly, site assessors using drones didn’t need to be on site as long or climb on the roof, making it easier to distance and keep people safe.
As Freedom Solar continues to expand, both in and out of Texas, drones are becoming an essential tool for employees. While COVID will ultimately be a blip in Freedom Solar’s company history, Josh sees drones — and leveraging more technology in general — as the way forward. To him, the industry is only just getting started.
“Solar — and all renewable energy sources — is the way the world is moving,” said Josh. “Even big oil companies are investing in renewable energy these days. The future of solar is bright.”