The business use case for Google Glass in solar installation

I had the chance to test some Google Glass recently, and assess its capability to make calls, capture video, photos and access short bursts of information. My overall impression was that the technology will have more potential than many give it credit for, and those that are dismissing it as a fad that will only be attractive to hard core tech geeks are missing the point.

To be sure, there is some inevitable eye strain that I felt. To access the screen, one has to look up and to the right. But there are many valuable applications. The glasses are capable of taking pictures quickly and responding to voice commands. The phone interface is very interesting because it has the potential to disrupt the smart phone as the core device for phone calls, texting and accessing apps, particularly if voice commands take off. This may seem crazy now but then again ten years ago few thought a touchscreen tablet would ever start to eat into laptop sales.

Capabilities aside, the reason I’ve been curious about Google Glass has more to do with their potential use in business applications. In particular, that Google glass could find a place in the solar installation and servicing industry.

Adweek has reported on Sullivan Solar Power, a Southern California residential and commercial solar installer. So far the company is testing Google glass with its service technicians, allowing them to navigate rooftops and make phone calls while their hands remain free. They’re also able to take photographs and report back data such as kilowatt per hour power production metrics to a field office. The realtime image capability allows outside experts back at a home office environment to assess the functioning of systems and answer questions.

The efficiencies here are pretty straight forward.  Experts don’t have to travel to a location and can easily communicate with multiple installers in the field. Additionally, there are theoretical productivity and safety gains from not having to have field technicians hold an actual phone.

Sullivan Solar has actually built a dedicated app for its Google Glass, an app it claims is the first Google Glass app in the entire renewable energy industry. The company wouldn’t reveal full capabilities of the app, but it appears to easily house a database of customers, their locations and any relevant technical photographs of the installation site.

It also has in depth inventory information. In one demo, Sullivan Power director of IT Mike Chagala, uses the app to easily locate inventory information on microinvertors, including technical specs like maxium voltage and current. Chagala has indicated that he’s already seeing a healthy ROI, enough to justify the reported $299 price tag that some analysts are predicting for Google Glass.

The use case in solar installation is interesting, and I think Google Glass could have use for other cleantech industries highly reliant on a work force that is often on the street diagnosing problems. Utilities with field technicians could easily communicate images and data to the back office to improve outage response times and the efficiency of service calls.

In the end, I’m actually more optimistic about the business applications of Google Glass than the consumer applications. There’s this quandary that wearables designers have to address. On the one hand, the attractiveness of something like Google Glass is that we can get a reliable stream of information without having to look at our phones. On the other hand that stream of information can grow tiresome and distracting, particularly when it requires an upward motion of the eyes that one Google Glass field tester noted to me can get tiring.

But in a business context where the Glass is being used for specific purposes to access information or make a connection in order to achieve an outcome, there’s a certain clear usefulness to the product that justifies its use. Expected to hit the market in 2014, time will only tell where the glasses find the most use, but I’m guessing that the business sector will be the first area where the cost of deploying a workforce with the glasses can be justified.