One of the residential solar industry’s ongoing challenges surrounds standardizing and speeding up the time it takes to get installations approved and in place.
One small installer in San Diego is viewing this problem through a different lens: it is testing ways that its employees can use head-mounted Google Glass technology and applications to improve technician safety, get questions resolved more quickly in the field, and even to record and review projects for training and quality purposes.
“We recognized this device immediately as a game-changer in our industry,” said Michael Chagala, director of information technology for Sullivan Solar Power, a 120-person turnkey solar project design company that has installed approximately 18 million watts – from small residential projects to municipal systems to commercial installations. “We’ve only scratched the surface of how this will change the way we do business.”
Sullivan Solar began brainstorming ways to use Google Glass about one year ago, but it couldn’t find its way into Google’s invite-only developer program, Chagala told me when I chatted with him last week. So his team purchased a unit off eBay and started experimenting with potential applications, using the Android Studio programming kit to get started.
“No one here has any mobile development experience, but some of us have software development backgrounds,” he said. “We started developing a workflow and an app before we got the first device. It took a couple of months before we had a beta.”
One of the first applications that Sullivan Solar will test during 2014 is one to help share “the collective intelligence” of its staff.
Chagala described a scenario in which a Sullivan Solar technician is sent to inspect, and possibly repair, system that isn’t performing up to expectation. After climbing the ladder (Sullivan Solar employees won’t be allowed to use Google Glass while getting on and off roofs), the technician could switch on the device to record video of what he or she is viewing during the inspection. If something unusual is encountered and the technician has a question about it, a videoconference could be initiated with teams back in the office.
“Essentially, they can share the eyes, hands and ears of other members of the team,” Chagala said.
Alternatively, an archived version of the video could be used to ensure that individuals are using the proper procedures or to help new employees learn from the experiences of others, he said.
When I pressed Chagala about the potential dangers of using Google Glass while walking around on top of a building, he said his company is revising its existing employees policies to address potential safety and privacy issues.
While Chagala isn’t sure how quickly Sullivan Solar will roll out more systems to more members of its field team, he is certain of one thing: His company’s approach has finally caught the attention of the technology giant, so he’ll be able to buy all his future units straight from the source. “They are happy to get more into our hands,” he said.
Whether Google Glass proves to enhance productivity at this relatively small company remains to be seen, but its ideas might serve as inspiration for companies that are growing quickly — such as SolarCity, which has an interest in ensuring that its processes and procedures can scale as rapidly and safely as possible.