Thursday, April 01, 2010

Solar Power with Google Maps

Today Google Maps Mania is featuring a guest post by Ethan Lipman looking at the many uses of Google Maps by the solar power industry in the United States.

Ethan has been designing and permitting solar power installations throughout California for the last three years. Raised in Silicon Valley he has particular interest in using technology to optimize the solar power installation business. From site evaluation to design and permitting, to power plant O&M, Online Mapping APIs, and GPS have become extremely useful tools in the Solar Power Industry.

Solar Power Maps Mashups

Part advocacy and part public information, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego County have each created maps showing off existing solar power installations. These mashups serve as virtual cheer leaders for the California Solar Initiative. They include certain installation specific information about each site.

These mashups also serve as education hubs informing the public about everything from how solar power works to local policies related to installing solar in your neck of woods.

San Francisco was the first to create a Google Maps mashup of existing installations. This site initially helped combat the misconception that SF had too much fog to be a good place for solar power. In fact it’s a terrific place for producing electricity straight from the sun’s rays and many home owners and businesses are doing just that!

San Francisco Solar Map

Not to put all of its eggs in one basket, the Los Angeles County Solar Map uses Bing rather than Google Maps.

Los Angeles County Solar Map

At the time of this post, San Diego is ahead of both San Francisco and Los Angeles, leading the way with 2,262 installations totalling to 19.4 megawatts of electricity – roughly equivalent to the power used by 12,000 homes.

San Diego Solar Map

Project Permit, from Vote Solar, is tracking Solar Power Permitting costs by jurisdiction. In the fast evolving solar industry, it’s difficult for regulators to keep pace with the changing landscape of products. Policies and permitting can become complex, pricey, and a barrier to industry success. A simple Google Maps mashup is a very effective way to visualize and make accessible efforts to track this information. Project Permit allows you to see how cities compare against best practices and if your home town has high fees or long turn-around times.

Getting to where the rubber meets the road, Sungevity pioneered an approach to minimize the costs of sending sales people out driving around on house calls to customer sites. Much of the information gathered from climbing on a customer's rooftop can be discovered with comparable precision using Google and Microsoft's online aerial maps. Sungevity built their mashup using Microsoft’s mapping platform.

Since imitation is the highest form of flattery, Sungevity should be flattered indeed, as a number of solar installation companies have acknowledged the value of Sungevity’s model. REC Solar recently built a Solar Analysis widget which looks like a solid Google Maps mashup. It not only help qualify leads and lets the customer identify their roof, it also lets the customer draw the area of their roof that they consider available for solar panels.

This do-it-yourself widget uses KML markup tools similar to what Scribble Maps can do right in a web browser.

One Block off the Grid is using a Google Maps mashup in a totally different way. One Block Off The Grid (1BOG) organizes home-owners into communities to negotiate group discounts for home solar panel installations. The 1BOG website features a Google Map that shows where people have signed up and where they have actually gone solar.


A few examples of design tools that use Google Maps include WindSpeedByZip and GroundSnowByZip. These provide quick access to location specific wind and snow load data. Solar irradiance data is available on a location specific basis as well.

While many of the most frequently used tools today run in a conventional browser or personal computer, increasingly, new tools leveraging mobile platforms with GPS and internet access are hitting the iTunes Store. Location is already very important in many more ways than I’ve discussed here, and it’s only going to get more so.

I haven’t even mentioned the layers of data and 3-D building info in Google Earth and how valuable a platform that has been for solar power development around the globe! The APIs of Google Maps and Google Earth and the many mashups that grew around them enabled much progress and have been of great value to the solar power industry.

With tablet computing about to launch in a major way, we’ll have GPS enabled, internet connected devices making it easier than ever to do some exciting new things. I’ve been using existing platforms from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Apple, and AutoDesk for solar power development in ways they might not have imagined. I’d love to work with Entrepreneurs and developers to build on these platforms and turn the many ideas and improvements in my head into tools we can create and deploy to help the solar power industry continue to thrive and drive down costs at the same time!



David Belden said...

It's great to see so many people switching to home solar energy! These map mash-ups really do show just how popular it is. In fact, a lot of people don't realize it when their neighbors go solar since often the panels aren't visible from the street. Thanks for finding these mash-ups and posting them.

Residential Solar 101

Jason Alen said...

It is good to see that usage of solar energy is increasing but need to be more faster.

Unknown said...

The faster the better... I agree.. the capital financing crunch of 2008 - 2009 didn't help any with speed of adoption... but we made it through.. I'd like to see solar on the white house.. would be a pretty powerful statement:

Unknown said...

one thing that needs to happen to speed adoption is the costs need to keep coming down.. material costs have come down a lot.. Module prices have dropped from 3.50/Watt to 1.75 /Watt in last 2 years! There are all sorts of ways that the gov't can help speed adoption by cutting the red tape: and then there are people like me also trying to decrease our industry installation costs by optimizing our business processes, building tools, and leveraging technology like mapping mashups to aid in site discovery, and the design and permitting process.