11 best commercial solar design tools

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Picking the right design tool for your commercial solar installation company is crucial. It can speed up customer proposals and avoid costly rework when it comes time to break ground. A powerful tool makes closing deals easy, giving customers confidence in your work.

After researching many popular and not-so-popular commercial solar design tools used in North America, we’ve chosen our favorites, offering different capabilities and price points.

For solar installation company owners, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of various tools is essential for making informed decisions.

Understanding solar panel design tools

Let’s understand the crucial role of commercial solar design software. These tools simulate, analyze, and optimize the behavior of photovoltaic (PV) systems, providing designers with precise insights into system operation. Ranging from user-friendly options for quick estimations to more data-centric solutions with deep analyses for complex projects, choosing the right design software is usually a trade-off between features, results, and cost.

How we picked these tools

User experience (UX)

We like tools that are easy to use and provide solar proposals that lead customers to act, rather than force more research and rework.

We favor tools that give us results fast,
as the last thing you want is a potential
customer waiting for answers.

We want tools with accurate calculations and robust simulations to give us better answers.

Free isn’t necessarily bad
and we wanted to provide various
options to suit different budgets.


Solar design software addresses the need for a cost-effective, reliable, and efficient method of planning solar system projects. When developing engineering plans and drawings for the installation, solar designers prioritize three factors:

  1. Property size and location: Solar designers begin by assessing the client’s property, considering its size, location, and on-site facilities. This data is crucial for calculating the number and layout of panels needed and selecting the type of solar panel for optimal performance and costs. Some solar design tools have size limits on modeling, so installers should confirm their projects are supported.
  2. Customer energy consumption: Solar designers focus on understanding how much energy the customer consumes and tailoring PV systems to meet that need. This involves an assessment of the energy consumption patterns of offices and facilities, and identifying the probable percentage of energy savings achievable with solar panels. To ease these calculations, some tools automatically determine utility tariffs (or integrate with other systems) to estimate the cost of customer energy consumption and how the solar system may offset those costs.
  3. Environmental conditions: The effectiveness of solar panels can be influenced by external factors such as sun coverage, foliage, buildings, and the surrounding environment. This consideration is essential for designers and project managers to determine the potential energy production capacity of the panels accurately.

Based on our experience with solar installers across North America, commercial projects need highly accurate and realistic design calculations and simulations for the facility. When estimating energy production and system performance, solar design tools using CAD software to account for the physical characteristics and layout of the installation often outperform those that don’t.

Top 11 solar panel design tools

Here are our top 11 solar system design tools that lead the industry.

1. Helioscope

Get this if: You want a full suite of features with plenty of relevant data included…and can afford its steep price.

Why it’s great: Helioscope leads the pack with features, offering 3D design, rapid proposals, simulations, unlimited designs, single-line diagrams, and automatic CAD export. All of this is backed by a library of 45,000 components, global weather coverage, shade reports up to 5 MW systems and live support. It claims to speed up the design process by ten times over comparable solar design tools. The cost might be a drawback for some.

Helioscope uses PVsyst mathematical models combined with CAD.

2. Aurora Solar

Get this if: You want a popular tool that crafts accurate solar designs without visiting the proposed site.

Why it’s great: Aurora’s AI-powered platform helps installers perform remote site analysis and energy production estimates. In addition to LIDAR-based shading analysis and 3D visuals, Aurora includes interactive sales tools to help close deals faster.

3. Energy Toolbase (ETB Developer)

Get this if: You want fast and sophisticated solar and storage proposals based on robust financial analysis.

Why it’s great: ETB integrates with many energy storage and financing providers, allowing installers to rapidly generate quotes without copying and pasting data from multiple platforms. It also has an in-house utility rates team for instant and current rate data.

4. OpenSolar

Get this if: You want a free solar design tool that creates solar plans, generates proposals, and accepts payments.

Why it’s great: It’s free for everyone and has no design caps. It supports 3D designs, is relatively easy to use, and integrates with many financial partners to help deals close faster. Installers can do everything online within the platform, from creating interactive proposals to getting customer financing approved.

5. SolarEdge Designer

Get this if: You want a free tool that creates attractive 3D designs for solar proposals.

Why it’s great: SolarEdge Designer helps reduce design costs while producing beautiful proposals. It can use satellite or your own custom images to design PV projects from the first stage of the project to the final installation. It also integrates with SolarEdge’s monitoring products that help measure consumption with Power Purchase Agreements (PPA).

6. PVCase

Get this if: You want an AutoCAD-based tool with a high level of precision and automation.

Why it’s great: PVCase’s automation helps streamline design workflows, such as automatic layout generation, shading calculation, and electrical design. You can export layout and electrical designs to PVsyst for yield analysis.

7. BlueSol

Get this if: You want accurate and precise PV system designs and don’t mind a steeper learning curve.

Why it’s great: BlueSol Design allows you to create a detailed simulation and economic study of your PV system and all its components. It includes a CAD system to automate the creation of single-line electrical diagrams, and its schematic representation gives designers a precise view of the operation.

8. PVsyst

Get this if: You want fast, simulation-based proposals with a user-friendly interface.

Why it’s great: PVsyst is user-friendly and great for quick estimations. You can start with a few inputs for the project area, desired capacity, solar module, and inverter, then move into detailed study, sizing, hourly estimation, and report generation. Using a standardized solar proposal template, you can use PVsyst’s data to create project proposals separate from the tool.

PVsyst has versions for education and research with some limitations.

9. Pylon

Get this if: You want an intuitive user interface with a cost-effective, usage-based pricing model.

Why it’s great: Pylon’s unique pricing model makes it ideal for lower-volume installers looking to save costs – rather than a monthly subscription fee, you pay $4 for every project. It has an easy-to-use interface, allowing you to get started quickly, and has useful features such as high-resolution aerial imagery, 3D solar shading analysis, interval data analysis and load profiles, financial projections, web & PDF proposals, e-signatures, and payment gateways.

10. Homer

Get this if: You want a versatile simulation that accounts for multiple energy sources and loads.

Why it’s great: Homer lets you simulate with multiple inputs and add factors like wind speed, fuel cost, and emissions penalties. It also offers flexible deployment options, installed on-premises or as a cloud-hosted SaaS.

Note that it’s not specifically designed for solar PV systems so some of the reports may not be as comprehensive as those from PV-specific tools.

11. PV*Sol

Get this if: You only need 2D designs and simulation features.

Why it’s great: PV*SOL is a 2D option for simulating PV systems, including solar output, panel sizing, and economic forecasting. This option is good if you don’t need 3D model shading and landscape visualization.

PV*Sol does offer a premium version that includes 3D shading analysis.

Choose wisely for solar design success

Selecting the right solar design tool requires careful consideration of your needs and your customers’ benefits. The right tool streamlines your design process and helps you close deals faster.

Happy designing!

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Brandon Best

Product Manager

Brandon is the product manager for our integrated financing solution at EnPowered. His focus is on ensuring that our product genuinely benefits solar installers in terms of making commercial financing easy to access. With a natural inclination towards entrepreneurship, Brandon has a passion for the zero-to-one stage of building companies. He has worked on products in various domains, including wealth management, health care, brain-computer interfaces, drone traffic management software, and now, the intersection of energy and finance. He graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Science in Computing Science and Mathematics.