Fast-track Upcoming Commercial Solar Projects with Aerial Imagery and AI

In the race to 100% clean energy, solar power is leading the way.

Recent statistics from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) show how far solar has come and where it's headed:

  • Solar accounted for an all-time high 54% of new electricity-generating capacity added in the U.S. in the first three quarters of 2021.

  • Solar energy market has grown exponentially over the past decade, averaging 42% annual growth and increasing its share of the U.S. energy market from 0.1% to almost 4%.

  • Over the next ten years, the industry expects new solar generating capacity to triple.


So what's driving this solar energy heatwave?

Green building trends and federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) incentives are spurring outside-the-box urban commercial solar projects.

While residential and utility-scale installations are still the primary drivers of the solar industry, right now, the commercial market is sizzling hot. In the age of green building code requirements, LEED certifications, and the general push to limit carbon footprints, a growing segment of commercial businesses are looking for efficient ways to garner their own clean energy. And the commercial solar investment tax credit (ITC) is an incentive for these companies to pursue solar.

The current ITC provides a 26% tax credit on projects commencing construction by the end of 2022 before decreasing to 22% in 2023 and 10% in 2024 and beyond. Although recent supply chain issues have resulted in increased costs and delays, companies are still working as fast as possible to plan and start construction on their solar projects in an effort to take full advantage of the tax credit. 

But in order to embrace alternative energy and benefit from the tax credit, the commercial sector is having to seek out creative spaces to soak up the sun. While solar roofs have historically made sense for big box stores or large warehouses, solar typically isn’t a viable option for businesses in dense urban areas, where clustered, small-footprint buildings don’t have the roof area to make solar efficient. Still, more and more PV panels are creatively finding their way into urban settings in previously overlooked areas.

For example, solar carports are turning underutilized “dead” spaces, such as parking lots and top levels of parking garages into urban clean energy havens. Although the canopies require the added expense of concrete or steel support structures, solar carports come with a range of advantages:

  • Resourcefully repurposing large areas of already-developed land

  • Sheltering vehicles and pedestrians from sun and rain

  • Reducing urban heat island effects

  • Providing clean energy for onsite facilities and electric vehicle charging stations


The sun is setting on the ITC, which means getting commercial solar projects started now is essential.

The imminent phase-down at the end of 2022 has created a hard deadline incentive for companies to commence construction on their solar projects and capitalize on the current 26% tax credit before benefits begin tapering off. For the solar design consultants, this means project volume is ramping up, and time is of the essence. 

As with any construction, the first step in a commercial solar project is to survey the existing site and create the site plan that will be used during the planning and design phases. In the case of ITC solar projects, delays in collecting site info and developing initial plans could mean a project might not get started in time to take full advantage of the tax credit. The last thing a design consultant or owner wants to be worrying about is how to efficiently get a project off the ground.

Gathering aerial imagery is the first step towards quickly documenting existing conditions…but what next? Now, you’re left with the task of reducing these aerial urban mega files into workable CAD plans. Doing the manual drafting required to trace out the congested buildings, maze of streets, and endless parking and pavement markings could delay output, eat up the budget, and potentially cause an owner to miss out on maximum savings.


AirWorks can help launch commercial solar projects quickly and without delays.

AirWorks’ AI-powered software can seamlessly bridge the gap between raw site data and final site plans ready for design. Upload the orthomosaic files to our app and let our algorithms identify common urban site features and autonomously assign them to one of our fourteen layers.

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