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Save A Dime, Lose A Dollar: Why Not Investing In Technology Costs More In The End

Key takeaway: New technology in solar, like drones, will pay for itself from your insurance savings and other cost reductions nearly immediately. Once adopted, there are other financial benefits as well, such as increased surveying capacity and eliminating both revisions and install-day adjustments. Even if your current process works today, it may not tomorrow; you need to do something different in order to build a sustainable, resilient business.

It’s easy to say new technology is a flashy luxury you can’t afford; saying that gives you permission to stay with your old, trusted, generally useful ways.

But it’s costing you in the end.

It’s true that new technology, like drones and mobile apps, has an upfront cost. However, it’s equally true that you’ll not only save money but increase capacity and streamline your workflow.

Here’s how that all works.

How Investing In Technology Instantly Saves You Money

Setting up a drone program costs about $2,500 per person for technology and training; it might also include a small salary bump.

If you’re wondering, here are the major costs associated with setting up a drone program:

FAA Part 107 License: This government requirement costs about $175 and requires 10-15 hours of studying

  • Optional study materials for the Part 107 exam cost about $100
  • Drone and accessories costs between $900 and $2,100, depending on which model you buy

All in, this costs under $2,500 per person and takes 10-20 hours over 1-3 weeks. Because of cost savings, the payback period is almost instant and you reap those rewards for years to come.

Here’s how that investment pays itself back immediately:

  1. Insurance: Reclassifying Surveyors when they no longer need to go on the roof can save thousands of dollars in insurance premiums per year.
  2. Worker’s Compensation: A reclassified worker also will have significantly lower worker’s comp premiums.
  3. Materials: You don’t need to buy (or maintain) expensive handheld, onsite shade devices, like SunEyes, because a drone can collect that data on-site.

How You Gain Full-Project Efficiencies and Sell More

When you use technology like drones and mobile apps, you gain four significant full-project efficiencies:

  1. Surveying capacity goes up: Drones make Surveyors up to 5x more efficient—a residential survey only takes about 10 minutes and a commercial is between 20-25 minutes. Surveyors also save hours per day with field data uploads. There’s also less wear and tear on the body, making it easier to retain great talent and hire more experienced Surveyors on your team. You also never miss any details—the mobile app and drone automatically share everything.
  2. Design is faster: Designers can move faster when they have digitally uploaded data with no risk of human error, skew, or even simple things like sweat on paper. You can even outsource designs if you want, leveraging a third party to get full plan sets within 48 hours. Just ask Solar Energy Services; it used to take up to three weeks to get engineering documents and stamps for permitting. Now they can get to that step in three days.
  3. Eliminate delays and revisions: Drone data is more accurate than both humans and aerial imagery, meaning your designs are more accurate—that results in eliminating revisions, which is precisely what happened for Namaste Solar.
  4. Eliminate install-day call-offs or changes: Don’t make your Installers fix the mess at the end. Even a small team (for instance, three installers) needing 1-2 hours to fix a problem is a huge cost.

Common Concerns (that you don’t actually need to worry about)

Concern: My salary costs will increase if we bring in drones.

Reality: In some cases, you might end up paying $1-$3 per hour more. However, that can be seen as an investment in talent retention and talent quality—it’s also made up for by increased Surveyor capacity.

Further, you can also decide that you won’t pay more—instead, the investment in drones is an investment in improving work conditions, the benefit being that Surveyors have an easier time on the job.

Concern: My team could crash the drone and that costs money

Reality: Yes, they could. Accidents happen. But that’s not unique to drones: 58% of Surveyors have also dropped tools off the roof. Humans can also have accidents, which cost a lot more money in terms of insurance payouts, new premiums, lost team productivity, and morale.

If you’re concerned about a newbie team, you may want to invest in a drone with obstacle avoidance features to help minimize accidents.

Concern: I genuinely cannot afford the outlay to buy drones right now

Reality: You can buy less expensive drone models or hire a third-party pilot to start your drone program before investing in your own hardware. However, it’s worth noting something—drones that pair with Scanifly are as cheap as a few hundred dollars. They have fewer automation benefits but still work with additional pilot training. That said, the margin on one residential project can cover the drone costs with money to spare.

Concern: This will take too much of my team’s time

Reality: Learning how to fly a drone and getting your Part 107 license takes 1-2 hours per day for 2-3 weeks—then you’re done. Just ask Sunbug or other contractors. Put another way, would you rather lose time on every project going forward, or spend a little time now to save a ton later?

Concern: Flying a drone is lazy and will make Surveyors technically inept

Reality: As Contractors scale, we recommend they consider ways to work smarter, not harder. Using Scanifly’s technology, Surveyors can easily 3-5x their survey capacities, have much greater longevity in the role, and attract a wider range of potential employees.

Concern: You can’t fly a drone in the rain or with snow on the roof

Reality: Drones can measure accurately with 6-9 inches of snow on the roof, as long as you can see divots and vent pipes. While we don’t recommend flying in high winds or rain beyond a light mist, you can still conduct the internal survey and reschedule the external portion. Regardless, if weather conditions are not safe for drones, they certainly aren’t safe for humans, so you’d be rescheduling anyway.

A Lot of Benefits for Your Investment

Yes, a drone program costs a bit of money to set up. We aren’t arguing that.

That cost is worth it.

You get your cash investment back almost immediately in the form of lower expenses. Then you gain full-project efficiencies that can help you further cut costs and make more revenue.

If you zoom out, the total cost of a drone program is a fraction of the cost of a single system install, a fraction of a sales commission, or just a few cents per watt.

No matter which way you cut it, the total cost is worth it for the benefits of a quicker path to installation day, fewer re-permits, and happier project owners.

And, if you’re not sure if it works for your unique context, Scanifly is happy to meet up and do a demo with you. We’ll show you the process and compare it to your own workflow so you can see the efficiencies firsthand.

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