The question behind Google’s new Project Sunroof is pretty straightforward: why are we not taking advantage of the endless source of free, clean energy that’s hanging over our heads? The potential sun-catchers seem to be concerned with a number of issues, such as the technicalities of installation, the position of their house and the potential savings, and many have turned to Google for answers to their questions.
For that reason Carl Elkin, one of the company’s engineers, came up with the idea to use Google Maps’ pre-existing capabilities to offer a new service – named Sunroof – that provides all of the information needed directly via Maps. This initiative fits in Google’s policy, put forward by co-founders Page and Brin, to encourage employees to dedicate 20% of their time to projects that will help the company in the long term. In fact, Sunroof’s benefits will not be immediately visible, since the service will initially only be available in three locations, but its potential goes well beyond that. With the recent drops in solar panel prices, it’s easy to see how an increasing number of homeowners will turn to solar in the near future.
How does it work?
So far, previews of Sunroof look fairly intuitive. By simply finding your house on the map, kindly offered by Google’s HD satellite images, and clicking a button, you will get a detailed overview of your home’s suitability for solar panels and where to place them on your roof to get the best exposition. Additionally, you will get an approximate number of the hours of sunlight per year, the total savings and payback years, the recommended installation size and information about suppliers in your area. The “bill slider” will allow users to set their average energy expenses to get more accurate estimates.
For precision’s sake, Google takes into account the aerial view combined with a 3D modeling of the roofs, all the possible positions of the sun during the year, the shadows cast by nearby buildings and trees, and meteorological patterns that might influence the energy production. The cost calculations will include taxes and credits, and consumers will be able to choose between three different price options, namely buying, leasing and taking a loan.
Where does it work?
Sadly, the service will initially only be available in the San Francisco Bay area and the cities of Fresno and Boston. Google plans to expand to the entire territory of the United States relatively quickly, while the rest of the world is still a maybe.
For whom does it work?
Solar power comes with an endless list of advantages, from both environmental and economical points of view, but Google warns its users about the possible reasons why it might not be the best option for everyone. To benefit from the service, you will have to make sure that your roof is not shaded and in good condition, and check that the policies in your area allow you to install solar panels. Sometimes, even when all the geographical requirements are there, you might not be free to modify your home if it’s part of a historical center, or for other similar reasons.