Google’s Project Sunroof comes to Austin, calculates solar potential

Click here to view this article on the Statesman – April 7, 2017

Nearly two years since Google launched its solar power initiative, Project Sunroof, the mapping tool has finally come to Austin.

Project Sunroof is an online mapping tool that uses Google Maps, Google Earth and other data to calculate solar potential and provides data for a given state, city, zip code or specific address.

This project in 2015 only included solar data for a few areas in California. A year later, the solar map expanded across the country, and in 2017 some Texas cities, including Austin, were added to the project. The data coverage now includes about 60 million buildings in the country.

Target has pending city permits to add solar panels at several Austin stores. H-E-B and Ikea has been exploring the concept, too.

Project Sunroof estimates that 85 percent of roofs in Austin are solar-viable. According to their data, if all of the viable solar installations in Austin were implemented, 2.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity could be avoided.

The data indicate that 291 million square feet of roof space in Austin could potentially have solar panels installed.

The solar analysis of Austin also includes information about electricity potential, installation sizes for different kinds of roofs and local solar incentives. Some utilities like Austin Energy offer incentives for residents with solar panels.

This project uses data from the 2010 U.S. Census, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, and the Department of Energy, with imagery from Google Maps and Google Earth.

Google says this tool takes into account weather patterns, the position of the sun in the sky at different times of the year and shade from trees or buildings. The estimated sunlight for a roof is translated into energy production.

Project Sunroof found that Houston is the city with the most solar potential in the United States. Other Texas cities also made the top 10 list for cities with the most solar potential, including San Antonio at No. 4 and Dallas at No. 9.

“If the top 10 cities reached their full rooftop solar potential, they’d produce enough energy to power 8 million homes across the U.S.,” Google said in a blog post.

When a specific address is searched in the project, the number of usable sunlight hours per year, annual savings on electricity bills and local solar provider information is provided.

Google said it became an early adopter of rooftop solar nearly 10 years ago when a solar array was installed at the Mountain View, Calif., headquarters and they are proud to be expanding coverage of Project Sunroof to help more people decide if solar makes sense for them.

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