Two years ago the brainiacs at Google began a project to evaluate the solar power potential of millions of residential homes. The project started in the U.S. (and will likely reach across the globe soon enough) using the advanced satellite mapping systems Google had been utilizing for years in their Google Maps technology. Project Sunroof, as this solar initiative is called, has come back with some truly inspiring results.
The information can be calculated down to the individual home, or scaled up to give you a readout on an entire neighborhood or city. I tested it out on a home in Petaluma, California and found that it had 1,861 hours of usable sunlight per year (based on an analysis of day by day weather patterns, and even nearby trees) and 951 SQ feet available for solar panels. About 98% of the electricity my family uses now would be taken care of by that amount of paneling. The estimated savings for this home should they have a 20-year lease is $16,000. If the panels were simply bought under a 7-yr plan, the savings topped $40,000 in two decades. Scrolling down, Google also lists the tax incentives to look into if you are considering the purchase. Clever, clever Google.
Zooming out to the town of Petaluma itself – there were over 25,000 viable rooftops that if utilized would be the pollution equivalent of removing 36.3K cars off the road, or planting 4 million trees. You can even take it farther and look at the mapped area of California as a whole. From the parts completed (so far Los Angeles hasn’t yet been finished) the state could eliminate 54.9M metric tons of Carbon dioxide by utilizing their rooftops for solar. That’s the equivalent of taking 11 million cars off the road or growing 1.4 billion trees.
Using this type of data compiled for residential solar systems for both individuals and larger populations can be an extremely useful way to promote solar power to people and governments across the world. There is something to be said for something that can show an impact on an individual and then quickly scale up to demonstrate the power of changing your community.
This comes at a great time. Although solar power has seen an increase in use, it is mostly in the utility sector. Individual residents are much slower to adapt to this cleaner technology due to the upfront costs. Giving everyone a tool they can use that demonstrates how going solar will clearly will save them substantial money in the long run – and graphically showing them how much of an investment going solar for their individual home is – can be a powerful force for change. It allows people to personally discover for themselves what is financially and ecologically possible for both them and their community.
Once Google brings this project worldwide, solar power providers would be wise to use this tool in creative ways to promote the industry. Personally targeted flyer campaigns providing links where one will be brought immediately to their home and see its foreseeable savings is the most obvious of these.