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677: The “Carfax” of Solar, How Software is (finally) Transforming Fieldwork Management, With James Nagel & David Penalva of HelioVolta
Episode 67722nd February 2024 • SunCast • Nico Johnson
00:00:00 01:34:48

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Can the solar industry utilize advanced data analytics and software to address the challenges of integrating renewable energy sources into the grid, maintaining project quality, and ensuring long-term asset value? Where are there still gaps to address? As the industry matures, project developers, asset owners and grid operators are increasingly focusing on leveraging data streams from the field to enhance project performance as well as grid reliability. However, one element of data gathering has been a perennial gray area - accurate fieldwork management, which is still a very manual process in just about every respect. And it just may be the part of post-construction asset value retention that is most overlooked, till now.

American Made Solar Prize winners, James Nagel and David Penalva, co-founders of SolarGrade by HelioVolta, converted their extensive experience in solar project development and data analysis into a robust software aimed at precisely this conundrum.  SolarGrade, a software tool designed to tackle this challenge by automating field reporting and creating a centralized database called SolarFax, akin to a "Carfax for solar." By integrating detailed project data, SolarGrade aims to improve predictive maintenance, enhance performance insights, and ultimately, support the reliable and cost-effective deployment of solar energy. And, like Carfax, it may prove incredibly useful in the valuation and resale of these assets someday.

In this episode, James and David explore several key areas:

  • The critical role of comprehensive data analytics in optimizing solar project performance;
  • How SolarGrade is addressing the industry's data challenges by providing actionable insights;
  • The balance between cost efficiency, quality, and safety in project development;
  • The significance of early customer feedback in refining and scaling innovative solutions;
  • The broader implications of data-driven decision-making for the future of renewable energy.

Through their pioneering work, James, David, highlight the importance of balancing cost efficiency with quality and safety in solar projects, the value of field data, and how their journey through the American Made Solar Prize catalyzed their growth and software improvement , all while maintaining a passion for adventure and the great outdoors. 

Fun fact, if you WATCH this on Youtube, you’ll be able to appreciate just how outdoorsy David truly is, as we filmed in his garage where he has built his own rock climbing wall as a respite from the daily grind of startup life. He’s also responsible for Nico’s rekindling his love for the sport over the last year. They’d both love to talk climbing with you anytime…or meet you on the crag.

Hope you enjoy!

If you want to connect with today's guest, you’ll find links to his contact info in the show notes on the blog at

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