Helioscope review - Comprehensive modelling designed for large scale, not residential

Get an indepth look into Helioscope - Built by Folsom labs for installers of medium to large scale solar installations

Updated:
June 17, 2022
Rating:
3.5
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Get an indepth look into Helioscope - Built by Folsom labs for installers of medium to large scale solar installations
Helioscope

Lucian Wu

The following is a review as per the date above. There is no exchange of compensation and there are no affiliate links on this page. All opinions are my own.

Overview

Folsom Labs started in 2011 and created Helioscope to model data generated by solar panels. At that time, no software like this existed. Since then, hundreds of companies have used the software.

Helioscope does exactly what they promise. Users are able to generate deep analytical reports about rooftop or ground mounted solar generation. Much of the data it generates is more in-depth than many of its competitors.

From what I can see, the current version of Helioscope does not have the ability to generate financial data or send a proposal. At least, this is what I found on the free 30 day Trial version. Fortunately, they have an open beta for users to test that does have this feature, so this is what I will be reviewing.

After using Helioscope to design a number of solar systems, I have realised that they are very specialised. The software is ideally suited to design solar systems for:

  • Large commercial buildings
  • Industrial businesses
  • Solar farms

If these are the kind of customers you have, then Helioscope would be a great tool for you.

If you deal with mainly residential solar installations up to 15kW, there are better software out there.

Pros:

  • Generates detailed and meaningful data. 
  • Fast designs for large scale solar arrays

Cons:

  • Nearmap is not included
  • Changing panel locations is difficult.
  • Not user-friendly for small scale solar installations

Helioscope was designed for large scale

It is very obvious that Helioscope’s target audience is installers of medium to large scale solar arrays. 

The larger the area, the less time you need to spend on the design.

For example, a design like this which has over 550 panels can be done in 5 clicks.

Choose the area, and the panels are automatically populated.

The direction and spacing of panels can also be tweaked all in one go.

Helioscope was NOT designed for small scale solar

You may think that moving from large scale down to small scale should prove to be no problem, right?

Not exactly. 

There are many features that you would want to have when designing residential roof-top solar:

  • Can’t snap new panels adjacent to existing layout
  • Can’t move panels within existing layout
  • Can’t undo
  • Accidental right-clicks hijacks the panning of the screen
  • Accidental deleting of segments does not prompt confirmation

As a result, I became frustrated with the software. 

I found myself accidentally replacing panels, and adding panels to new unintended locations. 

I was forced to restart my design multiple times.

As a result, I feel like the learning time is greatly increased.

Why is this important?

Residential roof tops tend to have small roof spaces, chimneys or irregular shading. This causes a multitude of other factors that impact on the placement of panels. We need to have the flexibility to change and adjust panels if necessary.

Without resorting to restarting the design.

Once a mistake is made, such as an accidental deletion of a panel, I could not find how to replace the panel that was just removed.

How much does Helioscope cost?

Helioscope costs $95 (USD) / user / month. 

It appears that you will have unlimited projects to design for. 

I think at that price, it’s a fantastic deal for what you get.

Nearmap is not included for free

In most locations, NearMap offers the latest and best resolution photos of each house. Some solar design software includes this as part of the package, but unfortunately, Helioscope is not one of them.

Nearmap integration is available, but you need to pay Nearmap directly. 

Nearmap costs around $250 a month, but for most solar installers, this is a worthwhile expense.

Nearmap alternatives

What Helioscope does offer, are alternatives to Nearmap. 

Most people would prefer Google Maps to Bing Map. However, I have found that Bing Maps, on occasion, have had more clearer and up to date imagery than Google Maps.

At least in this scenario, Bing Map actually shows the existing panels.

What’s more, this comes included in the subscription fee. 

User interface is improving, but still a bit to go

A good user interface goes a long way to be perceived as a good product.

It shows attention to detail, keeping up with the trends, and understanding what information to show and what to hide.

The beta user interface is a massive improvement on the current interface.

The tabs are easier to understand, the icons are helpful, and the relevant information is where you would expect it to be. 

I found the new UI to be a good step in the right direction.

Searching for products is great

Helioscope claims to have over 40,000 solar modules and over 10,000 inverters in their database.

I can’t confirm, but what I can say is that their search function is fast and easy to use.

The search page will give results search terms which are inside product codes such as:

Longi LR4-72HBD-415M

Helioscope calculations are not as accurate as others

To some solar installers, accuracy of the estimation is one of the most important aspects of the software. 

They don’t want to over promise the customer, but still want to present a good return on investment.

So I put Helioscope’s calculations to the test.

I have access to data of a residential 8kW solar system in Melbourne that was installed at the end of 2010. It has been tracking energy data every day.

The system consists of:

  • 27 x 370W LONGi LR4-60HPH-370M
  • 1 x Fronius Primo 8.2-1

I used Helioscope to recreate the exact same system with the same components.

The image on the left is what is shown on the default Google Maps. Good thing Helioscope has the option to use Bing, which shows the panels that have been installed in 2010.

Here’s the design of the same system on Helioscope:

Following on, I then used Helioscope to generate a quote, which shows its estimated daily energy generation.

I matched it against the actual generated data from the solar system from 01/01/2021 to 31/12/2021.

Below is a table showing the Helioscope estimation for solar vs the actual solar generation.

This shows that Helioscope’s estimation is out by 12.36%. This is a little disappointing as I had high hopes. Helioscope was one of the earliest to market and prides itself on providing the most comprehensive data.

Helioscope estimated generation vs actual generation

Helioscope percentage error

Helioscope actual error

This shows that in this case, Helioscope has tended to overestimate the amount of solar generation for 11 out of 12 months.

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Proposal designs are basic

The proposal designs are fine. 

Average. 

Adequate.

They look like they were designed by someone who was more concerned with what the placement of the content, rather than what the proposal looked like.

In light of this, the designs are *adequate*.

They contain the most important information such as:

  • Modules
  • Inverters
  • System Size
  • Pricing
  • Estimated return on investment

Here are a few things that are lacking:

  • No attachment of product datasheets
  • No electronic signing of contract

Helioscope is still a little buggy

I understand that software development is difficult. So I’m not taking off any marks for some bugs that happen.

For the most part, Helioscope has been running smoothly for me. Just that on the odd occasion, my projects don’t load.

But after waiting for 5 minutes, the bug disappeared. 

Missing features

Lead form Webhook

It would be great to see Helioscope offer an API or webhook that allows for some sort of integration with forms. 

Integrations with accounting software

I would like to see a payment link included within the proposal. This would make it easier for your customers to pay, and for you to verify that payment.

Xero (or a similar competitor) offers this feature. 

Would be great to see some sort of integration in the future.

Customisable Branding

I couldn’t find where I could update my company logo and branding colours such that the proposal would seem like it was more aligned with my brand.

Update User Interface

Below are some examples of the latest dashboard interfaces. Let’s hope that Helioscope updates their dashboard so that it makes your life easier.

Conclusion:

Helioscope is made for large solar installations, and they do this very well.

For residential solar installations, the product is missing features that their competitors now have. 

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