Solar Pathfinder

Tools to Help You Install Your Solar Panels

The Solar Pathfinder is a handheld, non-electric shade analysis tool that provides instant, on site solar and shade data and information for any site on which you're interested in placing solar panels, and is one of several solar shade analysis tools that can help you to get the most out of your solar energy system.

solar pathfinder with carrying case

It's an invaluable resource for both hobbyists and professionals, and help you to find the best places to install a solar panel on your home, the best place for a greenhouse on your property, and can even help you learn whether you qualify for solar rebates!

How Does It Work?

Thankfully, this device does not require an engineering degree or a great amount of technical experience, so it can be used by anyone, at any time of the day, whether or not it is sunny at the time.

The pathfinder operates using a reflective durable plastic dome. When you look down into the dome, the entire site is reflected on the surface so you can see at a glance what could possibly inhibit the sun.

Underneath the dome is a diagram showing the sun's path for that specific location. You can see how the sunlight moves across the location for the current day or any day in the coming year. Convenient slots built into the dome allow you to adjust the time, day, and month so you can see what might block the sunlight at that given time and date.

You can even upload a digital photograph of your location using optional Assistant software which also provides information that is coordinated with local weather data for your location, as well as information about solar thermal potentials for your area.

It's handy for determining the location of a mounted solar panel or the positioning of a new home that will utilize passive solar technology, and eliminates the guesswork!

If you're going to invest in a solar power system, I highly recommend that you use a Solar Pathfinder or some kind of solar shade analysis tool before you set up your system. I will save you a lot of time and money!

Features of a Solar Pathfinder

  • Sunpath diagrams

  • Manual that outlines exactly how to use it to full potential

  • Angle estimator

  • White marking pens - to mark sun-path diagrams for future reference

  • Tripod

  • Tool box that contains tools specific to the pathfinder device

  • Assistant software calculates for solar thermal for an additional cost

  • Plastic or metal carrying case

A Comparison of Shade Analysis Tools

The first solar shade analysis tool we know of was the Solar Pathfinder, developed in the 1970's. Since then, two other devices have been developed that provide more sophisticated tools and capabilities for professional solar installers.

We'll take a look at Solar Pathfinder(tm), Wiley Electronics ASSET, and Sometric's SunEye in an effort to show you which shade analysis tool might be the best fit for you.

Solar Pathfinder(tm) - $300 - Additional Software is $160

This pathfinder gives you immediate feedback on potential locations for your solar panels. They offer a new software package that enables you to take digital photos of your site location and down load it to your computer to get detailed information on sun and shade pathways.

This is an ideal choice for the DIY homeowner who is looking to add solar panels to an existing home or for building a new home with solar technology. It's been rated very high for accuracy.

The Solar Pathfinder price includes a carrying case and tripod. You don't need an internet connection to see your photos and information right on site, but you do need a digital camera in addition to the device.

Wiley Electronics ASSET - $600

The Wiley ASSET is a digital camera mounted on a tripod, oriented to the south and leveled, with a compass and bubble level. It takes a series of eight or nine pictures and then joins them to create a wide angle, panoramic photo of your potential solar site. The software illustrates the sun's path for that location and calculates the total solar shading available for that site.

This particular model is used by solar energy professionals, and can save a lot of time if you are doing several shade analyses per week. The ASSET is considered the top-of-the-line shade analysis tool given its compact and accurate technology.

The ASSET includes a digital camera built into its device, so it saves you the hassle of carrying a separate one with you. You can download photos of the proposed to your laptop to get a very accurate picture of the sun and shade paths.

Base price includes a carrying case, software, compass, and built-in digital camera. Tripods can be purchased separately. The software features the ability to single out trees or other obstacles to see what could be done to eliminate the shade at your location. It can also automatically compute azimuth and solar radiation levels.

Solmetric's SunEye - $1,800

This is a hand held device that includes a PDA, a digital camera, software, compass and bubble level.

The camera takes a panoramic photo of your location and then calculates the available sun and the sun's path, to give you an estimate of the solar energy you'll be able to access each month.

The SunEye will generate bar graphs and data that you can download to your computer to generate reports. You can edit the data to remove trees and other objects in order to see whether clearing your site would increase your solar access, and export the data in a variety of formats.

The price of this device is somewhat daunting to anyone but perhaps a solar energy professional. The price does reflect two add-ons - a hard carrying case and a GPS system, but the device itself costs a whopping $1,400. Included in the base price: soft case, software, neck strap, built-in digital camera, bubble-level, and compass. The software is very similar to ASSET's software.

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