Considering Solar Panels For Your Home? Just Ask Google


By James Noble

August 20, 2015

This week, Google launched “Project Sunroof,” a new initiative that calculates whether residential solar panels might be a worthwhile investment. Drawing from aerial imagery from Google Maps and Google Earth, Project Sunroof determines how much available sunlight a home enjoys and how much money could be saved if solar panels were installed.

When you enter your address in the Project Sunroof website, it uses available weather data and aerial imagery to figure out how much sunlight hits your roof, factoring in things like orientation, shade from trees and buildings, and weather patterns.

Next, you can fine-tune the estimate by plugging in your monthly electricity bill and choosing a financing option (leasing versus loaning versus buying). Once the numbers are calculated, you’ll find out how much you’ll save and a list of solar providers in your area.

For now, Project Sunroof is only available to residents in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno, and the Greater Boston area, but its developers plan to expand it soon.

For Google, this is the latest in a series of green initiatives the company has undertaken, such as powering many of its data centres with renewable energy, investing in Africa’s largest solar plant, and accelerating the growth of rooftop solar by investing in SolarCity’s residential photovoltaic (PV) fund.

In Kimberley, B.C., meanwhile, western Canada’s largest solar farm recently began operations and has already exceeded expectations. The 1.05-megawatt SunMine solar project was projected to produce enough power for 200 homes. However, it’s producing enough for 275 homes and the company hopes to expand capacity soon.

The project has sparked more discussion about solar power in B.C., with BC Hydro reporting that a handful of developers have inquired about possibilities to build solar. However, BC Hydro’s resource planning work estimates that on cost, solar is still roughly a decade away from being competitive with the utility’s customer rates.

Nonetheless, the utility has experienced an increase in the number of homes signing on to its net metering solar program, which allows residential customers to plug solar systems into its distribution network.

BC Hydro statistics show 450 customers in the net metering program with the capacity to generate about two megawatts of electricity.

Over the past five years, solar-module costs have dropped 73 per cent, driving investment and employing 2.5 million people worldwide.