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Boston Solar

# sustainability

a web-based solar modeling and proposal tool

backend
Python
Django REST Framework
Celery
Pandas
design
Scoping Session
UX Design
UI Design
UX Enhancements
frontend
React
Next.js
Redux
Redux Toolkit
qa
Manual Testing
tools
GitLab

16

weeks to deliver MVP

87

design screens for desktop & mobile devices

11

types of documents managed with DocuSign integration

4

third-party integrations

problems to solve

Energy consumption has spiked to levels not seen in decades, but so have the energy prices. The cost of coal, natural gas, and crude oil projected to increase in 2022 by 81%, 74%, and 42%, respectively. This, along with the environmental benefits of turning to green energy, make the future of solar power and its providers seem bright. 

One of such providers is Boston Solar, a Massachusetts-based solar panel systems installer operating on the residential and the commercial markets. Their mission is to help customers cut energy costs while making a positive environmental change with green energy. The company prides itself on high-quality products, craft, and customer service. Together with the extensive experience gained through installing over 5,000 solar panels in the last decade, this has made Boston Solar a top green energy supplier in Massachusetts, a leading state in renewable electricity generation technologies.

For a long time, Boston Solar used a sophisticated Excel-based solar modeling and proposal tool. As the business expanded, the current solution became slower and less functional, proving insufficient in the end. What Boston Solar needed to keep growing was scalable, administrable, customizable, stable, and secure software that would empower their sales representatives to help customers make the right investment decision. 

Bearing in mind this goal, we undertook to translate the existing Excel solution into a fast and accurate web application, which, in essence, serves calculating savings coming from solar panels and creating offers with the estimations.

 

solutions

We kicked off the project with a one-day scoping session engaging Merixstudio’s cross-functional product development team and the client’s representatives: the Director of Technology, the Product Owner, and the Director of Sales. Together, we took a deep dive into the product context, including features, value, stakeholders, applicable regulations, and success criteria. As a result, we:

  • created user story maps for three types of users (admin, sales admin, and sales representative), 

  • identified opportunities, key challenges, and risks,

  • picked the best-fitting technologies and tools,

  • planned next steps on the way to delivering a functional MVP.

The uniqueness of Boston Solar’s tool lies in its capability to make detailed calculations of the solar panel system’s capacity and the resulting financial savings. As the algorithm used for that purpose is a part of the client’s know-how, our task was to understand its logic and implement it on the backend. To perform calculations within the app, we used pandas library. On the one hand, it allowed us to write more readable and better-performing code. On the other, since the client is familiar with Excel and pandas deliver a similar experience, it makes management of the platform easier. The latter was crucial from the maintainability standpoint, as the product is at the very beginning of its lifecycle, and changes in the business logic are unavoidable. The calculation within the app are also supported by the integration with PVWatts®. 

Another thing worth mentioning on the backend is the integration with DocuSign. Once the sales representative compiles a bunch of quotes and presents them to the customer, closing the deal swiftly and effortlessly is key. That’s where DocuSign’s electronic agreement steps in. As there are 11 types of documents within the system that need to be easily managed and sent to the customers in various configurations, we’ve implemented a composite template approach. This has significantly reduced the amount of work in maintenance as well as the amount of code

For the app’s frontend, we chose React and Next.js. Because they’re leading frontend technologies at Merixstudio, we’ve got plenty of experience making the most of what they offer, which translates into high-quality code. Moreover, we’ve used this combination in a project with similar requirements before, which guarantees that this solution will live up to the client’s and their users’ expectations. As the quote generation depends on the data entered by the users, building performant forms was a priority; hence, you’ll find React Hook Form in our frontend tech stack as well. 

On the design side, our priorities were functional UI and intuitive UX. To ensure the structure of forms and user flow make sense to the end-users, we’ve brainstormed the best solutions internally and discussed edge cases with the client. Next, we put our ideas into a complex yet comprehensible diagram that we reviewed together with Boston Solar. Another challenge worth mentioning was data visualization. As the product deals with lots of data that can be accessed on desktop and mobile devices, we paid special attention to making the charts legible regardless of the screen resolutions. The attention to detail and the smooth cooperation between designers and developers resulted in the client’s satisfaction with both the process and the final design.

Boston Solar has been a Scrum project through and through. The client remained in charge of product ownership, while we took care of implementation and proactively suggested improvements in terms of tools and solutions. To make the most of our collaboration, we kept in close touch with Boston Solar’s representatives. As of August 2022, we’ve delivered a functional MVP, which has been subject to user tests with the target group (client’s sales representatives). The roadmap for the next versions includes creating a white-label product customizable for other PV companies, as well as adding features that will allow the customers to use the app on their own.

view examples

key features

  • precise calculations

    based on the provided data and with the help of with the support of PVWatts®, the solution makes accurate energy and budget-related calculations, providing users with data like energy consumption, estimated energy production, or predicted financial savings

  • electronic signature

    integration with DocuSign allows for speeding up the process of signing an agreement between Boston Solar and the end-client

  • proposal generation

    once the sales representative enters relevant data to the system, the tool generates an aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly quote, which includes neat electricity use diagrams

  • sales pipeline management

    by giving access to information about clients and opportunities, as well as synchronizing with Salesforce via a custom integration, admin panel makes it easier to monitor and manage the entire sales pipeline on the organization level

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