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Virtual Inspections Help Clean Energy Projects Move Forward

The new process for energy-efficient projects benefits project developers and customers.

Before COVID 19, Donnie Martin, president of Going Green NRG, spent hours daily driving on busy Southern California roads. Many of those hours were spent driving to and from inspections on projects his company was completing to help clients save energy and money.

When he would arrive, the inspection process wasn’t as easy as it could be. Showroom floors and stores were busy with customers, often making it challenging to make sure the needed work wasn’t disruptive to his client.

When Gov. Newsom issued the stay-at-home order, everything changed. Most businesses had to adapt their work process, many were closed or required their employees to work from home. It also meant the mandatory inspection process that required physical site inspections for energy-efficiency, solar and battery installation projects were mostly put on hold. Without inspections, many incentives and rebates that help customers install equipment that reduces energy use or supports clean energy use would be at risk.

Smartphones, computers and video conferencing software are used in virtual inspections.
Smartphones, computers and video conferencing software are used in virtual inspections.

The Southern California Edison team that helps customers implement these projects quickly realized it needed to find a way to adapt the current process to meet the new and existing guidelines and requirements.

“We knew we had to move quickly to come up with a solution so our customers wouldn’t be in a position where their projects were no longer eligible for the incentives and rebates that were available to them,” said Alok Singh, SCE principal manager of Engineering Services, Customer Services and Programs.

In a few months, SCE worked with customers, vendors and third-party technical reviewers to design, test and roll out a virtual site inspection process that minimized the impact on customers and vendors while still providing the necessary results.

“I would prefer using the virtual inspection process,” said Martin. “The process was explained to me beforehand, it was very easy to do and there were no surprises. Plus, it was also less disruptive for my customer.”

I would prefer using the virtual inspection process. The process was explained to me beforehand, it was very easy to do and there were no surprises. Plus, it was also less disruptive for my customer.”

Donnie Martin, President of Going Green NRG

The virtual inspections use smartphones, computers and video conferencing software to safely complete the inspection process. Since different programs have different inspection needs, the process is flexible so it can meet specific equipment requirements.

Before a virtual inspection takes place, the “when, what and how” of the process is discussed and agreed on by SCE, the project developer and end customer. This enables a seamless experience for everyone involved and makes sure the needed results are achieved.

The virtual inspection has proven to be successful, with more than 300 energy-efficiency, solar and battery storage installations virtual inspections completed by the end of May. Due to the success of and benefits from virtual inspections, the process will continue to be used by SCE even after the pandemic is over.

That should help project developers like Martin, who believes it’s a better use of everyone’s time. He has saved up to eight hours each week through virtual inspections.