Engineers at Google have created a platform which aggregates data from Google Maps together with other relevant information in order to provide US residents with personal advice on making investments in solar power installations.

Project Sunroof: Google becomes a solar power adviser

According to the US Solar Energy Industries Association, a total of over 22,000 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity is currently installed and operating in the United States, enough to power more than 4.6 million average American homes. The industry is enjoying an unprecedented boom, with the 1,400-plus MW of solar power installed during the second quarter of 2015 breaking all records.

Projet Sunroof de Google

Notwithstanding this strong growth and the falling cost of solar equipment, the potential of solar technology is still far from being sufficiently exploited in the United States. Accordingly, Google tasked a team of engineers to look into ways and means of addressing this situation. The company has now come up with Project Sunroof, a free-of-charge platform which is intended to provide both individual householders and companies with the best possible advice on investing in a solar energy installation by pulling together data from Google Maps, details of the shade created by adjacent buildings or trees, meteorological records, plus also information on available tax credits. Working just from the address of the premises in question, the algorithm can work out the type of equipment that should be used and the most suitable orientation for the solar panels, and draw up an estimate of the savings that could be made on an annual basis.

The NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), which comes under the US Department of Energy, has already developed a tool with similar functionality, but Google has gone a step further by offering to put the requester in contact with local solar panel suppliers. The website, which also provides answers to a set of frequently asked questions  on solar panel installations, is now being widely regarded as the benchmark source of information on the subject.

When the Project Sunroof site was launched last August, it initially covered Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Fresno, California. It now extends to nine of the sunniest states in the Union, including the whole of California plus Nevada and Arizona. 

By Pauline Canteneur