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Over the last 19 years that I have spent learning about, installing and living with solar power, I have seen countless innovations in the industry. Solar panels seem to get cheaper and more efficient every day as new production methods and materials are able to convert more sunlight into electricity. Over the last few years, a greater focus on battery storage has made it easier to store more energy in a smaller footprint. But some of the most interesting innovations are the ones that help me to be a better solar installer and get more people energized.

Perhaps the most visible trend in technology over the last few years has been the rise of unmanned aircraft systems, or “drones.” Originally built for military use and in sizes comparable to an automobile, drones have taken the hobby world by storm and are now accessible by anyone with the budget for them, in sizes ranging all the way down to small enough to fit the palm of your hand.

Surprisingly, despite their popularity, there are only 200,000 licensed commercial UAS pilots in the U.S. I am happy to say that I recently became one of them, and am enjoying the many ways that drones help me work. With their high-quality cameras, drones are perfect for surveying potential solar sites and analyzing rooftops without needing to haul out the ladder. Once a job is finished, I love taking drone footage of solar panels to show them off to their new owners and our friends on social media.

A common question we get from folks curious about purchasing their own solar power system is, “What if my site is too shady? How can I be sure we’ll be able to produce enough power?” When we visit your site, one of the first things you will see us unload from the truck is this small tripod with a shiny dome on the top. This Solar Pathfinder tool can be used any time of day or year, in any weather, to accurately determine how much sunlight your proposed site will get, and how much energy it can produce. While relatively low-tech compared to some of the other tools we use, it was innovative when it was first created some years ago, and it is still the best tool for the job.

However, we actually employ innovative technical solutions before we even get to your site! In the past, we needed to do a site visit for every quote, meaning more travel time and cost, and fewer quotes that could be given in a day. Thanks to Solargraf, we can now send a rough quote in as few as five minutes using highly accurate satellite imaging and computer measuring tools. With that quote in hand, our customers are able to determine a system size that fits within their budget, and at that point, we can perform an in-person site analysis with our Solar Pathfinder and drone to look for any issues.

It’s exciting to be in an industry on the cutting edge of technology, and I love showing off new innovations at our Educational Showroom in Carterville. Stop by some time to see the latest that solar has to offer, or drop me a line at tech@aessolar.com.

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Aur 'DaEnergyMon' Beck, is a NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer™ with AES Solar in Carterville and started educating himself about renewable energy as a teenager even before (at age 15) he moved into a camper in his parent's driveway to live off grid solar and ended up living off grid for 18 years. Aur understands that living how he does makes it very easy to advocate for a life of simpler living, energy efficiency and renewable energy. His name Aur (pronounced "or") means light or to enlighten in Hebrew. Can be reached at tech@AESsolar.com or 618-988-0888.

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