Solar startup Sungevity using laser beam data to sell solar roofs

A Sungevity solar installation in the Maldives, courtesy of Sungevity.

Solar startup Sungevity is pulling in as much data as it can to help convince potential solar customers to buy solar panels for their rooftops — including data from frickin’ laser beams from the sky. This week Sungevity announced the latest upgrade to its service iQuote, which uses “lidar,” — like radar, but with laser beams, not radio waves — to help produce instant images of a solar panel system mocked up on the rooftop of a potential customer’s home, as well as a quote for how much such a system would cost.

LIDAR stands for light detection and ranging, and the system uses light to measure the distance and ranges of the landscape from on high. Often times planes and helicopters are used to collect such data. Sungevity bought this data from a third party to map out 3D landscapes across the Bay Area and Southern California. The new iQuote service is being piloted at Lowe’s stores in California.

Sungevity's iQuote service. Image courtesy of Sungevity.

Sungevity’s iQuote service. Image courtesy of Sungevity.

The “soft costs” of rooftop solar panels — everything that isn’t the hardware — make up more than half of the cost of a solar system. Companies like Sungevity are hard at work trying to reduce the costs of marketing, financing, and customer acquisition.

Oakland-based Sungevity, founded in 2007, has been growing quickly and raised $125 million over a year ago to expand. Company investors include Brightpath Capital Partners, Lowe’s, Vision Ridge Partners, Craton Equity Partners and Eastern Sun Capital Partners.

Sungevity handles sales and marketing, system design and financing deals, for residential solar panel systems, but the company farms out the installation work to contractors. Other companies like SolarCity — which recently went public — does all that and also installs the panels. Competitors in the market include SunRun, Clean Power Finance,  Solar Universe, Brightergy and Solmentum.

Solar panels are seeing dramatic growth in the U.S. this year and residential solar installations are growing faster than industrial or commercial installations. The U.S. is supposed to install 6.6 GW of solar in 2014.

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