Adding to the growing list of things Google knows about us is whether our homes and businesses could benefit from the addition of solar panels. Announced yesterday, the company's Project Sunroof combines aerial 3D models from Google Maps, historical weather data, the cost of utilities, and the value of local incentives to gauge whether covering a rooftop with photovoltaics (PVs) would result in energy-cost savings.
The online app is the project of Google engineer Carl Elkin, who previously volunteered with Solarize Massachusetts, a Boston-based solar-adoption program targeting residences and businesses. In a blog post announcing the project, Elkin explained why he developed the tool: “I’ve always been surprised at how many people I encounter who think that 'my roof isn’t sunny enough for solar,' or 'solar is just too expensive.’ Certainly many of them are missing out on a chance to save money and be green.”
Google is rolling out the platform as a consumer tool in Boston, the San Francisco Bay area, and Fresno, Calif. Users plug in their address and how much they typically spend on electricity. The app, in turn, shares a recommended solar installation size in square feet and kilowatts. It also offers information on purchasing or leasing the panels, as well as taking out a loan to cover the installation expenses, and the projected payback period in energy-cost savings. Finally, the app connects homeowners with local installers to do the work—along with, we hope, a tried-and-true site evaluation—of getting the PVs on the roof.
The tech giant isn't the first to put this type of information into consumers' hands. Mapdwell, a project from MIT's Sustainable Design Lab, for example, launched in 2013 to provide homeowners and businesses with the costs and benefits of adding PVs to a building. It is currently available in the greater Boston area, Washington, D.C., Washington County, Ore., and Lo Barnachea and Vitacura, both in Chile.
Yet the scale of Google's resources gives Project Sunroof a leg up in reaching the masses. For now, however, we'll have to wait and see where the app goes next.