Google's Project Sunroof estimates how much solar energy a roof can generate

Google can tell how much solar energy your roof can make

Image credit: Tiia Monto

Google’s Project Sunroof can tell how much homeowners can save on electricity bills by installing photovoltaics on the roof based on Google Earth imagery.

The project, which so far only covers the USA, aims to make it easier for homeowners to predict if installing solar panels is a worthwhile investment.

Based on frequently updated satellite and aerial images, the platform generates an accurate estimate of hours of usable sunlight, taking into account local weather patterns. Looking at the shape and size of the roof and the shading by surrounding trees, the system estimates how much electricity could be generated. Comparing the data with expected acquisition and installation cost, electricity rates and the availability of supportive schemes, the homeowner gets an estimate of how much money he or she would save in the long term.

“People can come in and very quickly and very easily get a pretty sophisticated understanding of their solar potential and whether it makes sense for them to go solar,” Joel Conkling, a product manager for Project Sunroof, told Reuters.

Last month Project Sunroof was among the 13 recipients of the United Nations’ Momentum for Change’ climate change award.

“We were impressed by the scalability of the technology with more and more states and homes able to use it,” said Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the Bonn-based UN Climate Change Secretariat, which presents the award.

The project launched last year covering only two US states but has since expanded to provide data on 42 of the 50 US states.

The project’s proponents hope to speed up the adoption of photovoltaics in the US, which today account only for 1 per cent of US electricity generation.

Other US companies also map the solar potential of roofs, including Geostellar and Mapdwell. But Conkling said he is confident that Google Earth’s global reach and high-definition images can help it cover more ground and provide estimates with an unprecedented degree of accuracy.

The ultimate ambition of Project Sunroof is to provide such data globally.

In recent years, Google has invested nearly $2.5bn in clean energy wind and solar projects, according to the company’s corporate website.

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