Start your Project

To display all the tools needed for solar project design, click the tab that says PVCAD on the right side of the ribbon menu. Choose your PVCAD settings before you start project design, settings cannot be changed in the PVCAD ribbon mid-design. Getting your settings and workspace organized will allow you to start designing a solar project faster and better than ever.


Energy Model

PVCAD has PVWatts or the System Advisor Model (SAM) for performance modeling within the software or options to export. Both internal software products come from the National Renewable Energy Lab, each using the same weather data. PVComplete defaults to PVWatts, providing simple performance estimates based on assumptions for wiring losses, soiling and other variables. Upon selection SAM provides a greater degree of control, preferable for experienced project designers. 


Selecting a Template

In the AutoCAD menu, select New Drawing and choose the DWT drawing file that you selected during software installation. Each local permitting office has requirements for the project drawings that you can submit. Some want printouts on 11 x 17-inch paper. Some want 18 x 24-inch paper. Others want measurements reported using the metric system, with centimeters instead of inches. Choose the appropriate template for your jurisdiction. Use the UNITS command to double check that AutoCAD is in the same units as your template.


Entering project details


After opening the template, click the Show Dialog button in the PVCAD ribbon to open a window where you can proceed to enter all the essential information about your project. You can dock the window by dragging it to any side of the AutoCAD model space or minimize it by clicking the auto hide button. The Dialog window has six tabs:


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Enter a project description, customer name, street address, authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), utility provider, wind speed, snow load, minimum and maximum ambient temperature, and more. As you type, data is automatically populated in your drawing via the smart fields. Here you can also set the geographic location of the project. See the section Importing a site image below to explore various options for setting the project location.

Site Objects

Label everything that you draw in the model space, including an outline of the installation areas and any obstructions where equipment cannot go.

Version Settings

View and modify system parameters. Default values correspond with minimum requirements in the National Electrical Code.

Mechanical Layout

Specify the mounting system, PV modules, and array characteristics such as module tilt and row spacing.

Electrical Layout

Choose the inverters and stringing preferences for your arrays, prepare to build your single line diagram.



See system-level data such as basic equipment quantities, nominal power and estimated energy production based on the inputs that you have provided for your design. If you have created multiple versions of the project, this data will be displayed side by side for each version here.

Importing a site image

PVCAD has a couple of easy options for importing a site image. In the Project tab, select “Set Location.” When prompted to use a map or a file, select map to open the window shown below where you can type a street address or geographic coordinates into the address bar. Zoom in until the project site is clearly visible. Then select OK to save the site image. PVCAD will automatically scale the image.

Another option is to use Google Earth or Google Maps to display geographic data using KML files or a compressed file version, KMZ. Export one of these files from Google. Then go to the PVCAD Project tab, select Location > File, and select your file to import as a site image. PVCAD will automatically scale the image. You can also enter the command PVCGEOGRAPHICLOCATION.

If you have high-quality imagery that you want to use, click Insert, then Attach, select an image and open it. To use these files DWG or DXF drawings of the project site, simply open them in PVCAD. Just be sure to check the scale to make sure it uses the correct measurement unit, inches or meters. Adjust the unit if necessary using the AutoCAD keyboard command SCALE. Make sure all roof faces are drawn as closed polyshapes. If the customer supplied a PDF, go to the Insert ribbon and use the PDF import button or use PDFIMPORT. Again, check the scale for the unit of measurement.

You can select any image file and paste it into your drawing, but be sure to adjust the image scale to match the measurement units of your drawing. Use SCALE.

Importing projects from PVSketch

One of the key advantages of PVComplete’s solar design solution PVSketch is that you enter project data once and never have to manually repeat steps in the design process. To import the site image and sales layout directly from PVSketch, find the project you want to import and click on the Reports menu in PVSketch. In the Reports page, select Export to PVCAD, then copy the project link.

Now return to PVCAD, select Import from PVSketch in the PVCAD menu, paste in the project link and select Import. PVCAD will insert the satellite image and sales layout, automatically at the proper scale.