Written by Doug O’Neill

A mutual friend falling off a roof and breaking his neck was the final push Matthew Jaglowitz and Eddie Obeliunas needed to launch Exactus Energy, which utilizes drone technology to undertake solar roofing assessments. In the minds of the two young engineers, using drones would be more efficient, less time-consuming, less costly, less laborious – and ultimately much safer than sending a couple of guys up on a roof.

The idea to use drones for solar roofing assessments and to determine placement of solar rooftop panels was a concept Jaglowitz and Obeliunas had discussed before their surveyor friend’s accident. “Our friend’s tragedy gave us the final shove,” says Jaglowitz, who cofounded Exactus Energy with Obeliunas in 2015 in the garage of his parents’ home in west-end Toronto.

It was a chance meeting that brought the budding entrepreneurs together in the summer of 2013. Obeliunas, who completed a double degree in civil engineering and business in Australia, met Jaglowitz the day he arrived in Canada. “Some Australian-Lithuanian friends picked me up at Pearson Airport and brought me directly to a party,” recalls Obeliunas. “That’s where I met Matthew, who’s also part of the Lithuanian community. We hit it off over a few drinks and shared interests.”  

Obeliunas got settled in Canada, spent a couple of years working in waste water engineering, and eventually moved into his pal’s family home. Jaglowitz completed his engineering degree at Queen’s University and his masters in industrial engineering at the University of Toronto and worked for a while at an engineering firm in Oakville.

And the brainstorming began. “We were both aware of the traditional surveying methods engineering firms used when assessing commercial and residential roofs for solar applications,” says Jaglowitz. “Two guys would climb up a ladder with survey equipment and tape measure, take notes, and estimate the placement and number of solar panels required – much of it leading to human error. Plus, that approach is time-consuming and can pose safety risks.” Jaglowitz estimates a team of two guys would assess two or three buildings in one day using that traditional method compared to using a drone – which bumps up that figure to seven or eight per day. “We wanted to harness the power of drone technology to provide accurate and affordable engineering solutions safely, and with rapid turnaround time,” says Obeliunas.

The Exactus team – which has jumped from 7 to 25 employees in the last year and no longer operates in the Jaglowitz family garage – has refined the use of drones. As Obeliunas explains:

“Flying the drone over a roof-top gives us an accurate image of chimneys and other obstructions, shade from nearby trees and buildings, shape and size. We collect that data, along with internal measurements taken inside the building, and turn it into a 3-D model. This method allows us to optimize placement of solar panels.”

Obeliunas says the drone method is especially appealing to developers who sometimes have 200 homes to assess: “Clients use our 3-D rooftop models to assess proposed solar installations. Using our model, the planning department can then take measurements, arrange aspects of the installation and conduct virtual load testing, all from their office. Drone technology expedites the process.”

Next up for the Exactus team? “We will soon expand into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northeastern Ontario,” says Jaglowitz, “But we’ll keep our base in Toronto, where we can network through incubator labs and innovation hubs like Venture Lab and MARS. And Toronto is ideal for recruiting new talent.”

One of the traits Jaglowitz and Obeliunas look for in new talent is an appreciation of customer service: “We want to disrupt the market in terms of customer service – which we, as engineers, find lacking in the engineering world. Unanswered emails, no one picking up the phone and lacklustre follow-up are all too common,” says Jaglowitz. “Our mandate is to reply immediately, develop and implement a plan within 48 hours, and return the completed package with two to three business days.”

With that kind of innovation, Exactus Energy will continue to soar.

Photos: Doug O’Neill