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Google Wants to Help You Install Solar Rooftop Panels

The tech giant’s new tool, Project Sunroof, tells you how much sun you get and how much money you could save.

Project Sunroof transforms the aerial view of the city based on how much sunlight each roof receives. (Captured from Project Sunroof)

Rooftop solar panels can bring big savings to homeowners, but many potential converts don’t realize what benefits are within their reach. Maybe they support clean energy but think their roof is too shaded for solar panels. Or they enjoy a lot of sunlight but think the cost of installation is too high. Or they don’t know a solar contractor they trust to carry out the project.

A team of Google engineers just released a tool called Project Sunroof to handle those concerns and more. They adapted the high-resolution aerial maps from Google Earth to estimate the total sunlight a rooftop receives throughout the year. The tool then tells you how much you can expect to save with solar panels under different financing plans (you can plug in your current electric bill for a more refined calculation) and connects you with local companies that do installations.

“There’s this giant power plant in the sky and it’s creating free energy for anyone to catch,” says the narrator in a handy animation released with the project. “But most people aren’t catching it because, even though it could save them money on their electric bills, getting started can be pretty frustrating.”

The video explains that after Google noticed so many people desperately turning to, well, Google in the search for more information on rooftop solar, they decided to proactively give people a tool to answer their questions.

According to the video, Project Sunroof currently operates in Boston (home of the product team), the San Francisco Bay Area (home of Google), and Fresno (home to the mom of one of the engineers; that’s why you should make your kids work at Google). If you type in an address in those regions, you’ll see your street with the rooftops ablaze in molten gold where it’s sunny, or glowering in a moody purple where the sun doesn’t shine. Drop the marker on a house underneath heavy tree cover and you’ll see zero square feet available for solar panels; move it to a gold-crested house and that number soars, along with potential savings.

At the very least, it’s fun navigating around a totally magical-looking cityscape. But beyond the visual alchemy, this program can help loads of people decide whether to give solar a try. No doubt you’ll want a boots-on-the-ground second opinion, and the financing options will differ from case to case, but Project Solar takes another step toward the normalization of rooftop solar for anyone ready to make the switch.

About the Author

  • Julian Spector
    Julian Spector is a former editorial fellow at CityLab, where he covers climate change, energy, and clean tech.