Google helps analyze if rooftop solar panels are good deal

January 3, 2016 byEmery P. Dalesio
solar panels

The company that lets you compare air fares and translate foreign languages online wants to make it easier to weigh the costs and benefits of installing solar panels on household rooftops.

Google is rolling out a new online service that quickly tallies up considerations of going solar and whether homeowners should consider buying or leasing photovoltaic panels costing thousands of dollars. Google's Project Sunroof combines the eye-in-the-sky images behind Google Earth with calculations on how much shade trees cast over a rooftop, data on local weather patterns, industry pricing and available subsidies to arrive at its bottom line.

The service expanded in December to analyze properties in the Raleigh area, as well as 15 other metro areas in Arizona, Nevada, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Colorado.

Interested potential customers are referred to solar-panel installers for further follow-up, cutting their marketing costs, said Carl Elkin, the senior software engineer behind the service.

"We at Google believe in . The solar industry needs our help," he said.

Google has invested more than $1 billion in recent years into solar energy, including $300 million earlier this year into a fund that finances residential rooftop projects installed by SolarCity Corp. Google invested $280 million in the publicly traded company in 2011.

Project Sunroof launched this summer in San Francisco and Fresno, California, and Boston, where Elkin works. The metro areas were picked based on several criteria, including Google's available satellite imagery and local market conditions including government incentives, Elkin said.

Google's proposition is a faster, simpler way of sizing up possible pros and cons of solar than calling out someone for a site evaluation or using the more complex calculator offered by the U.S. Energy Department.

An Associated Press reporter who plugged in his Raleigh home address was informed that installing solar panels would likely be a money-loser based on the amount of usable annual rooftop sunlight, shading from surrounding pine trees, and current household power use. But if the reporter chose to pursue the idea further, buying rather than leasing or a loan would be the better deal.

Google's increased involvement in solar comes as some states begin to re-evaluate policies that have helped stimulate the rapid growth in turning the sun into electricity.

All but a handful of states have laws allowing what's called "net metering" for homes or businesses—basically selling power from rooftop cells they don't use themselves, usually to the local electric utility, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In December, Mississippi became the 46th state to adopt broad rules promoting solar power.

In Texas and some of the remaining states, individual utilities may offer similar solar-purchase options, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group.

Solar accounts for about 1 percent of the country's total reported electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. About two-thirds of that is from utility-scale solar arrays that are often spread across rural tracts.

But as many as two dozen states are considering changes that would reduce the incentives for solar customers under the theory they too should pay for the broader power grid.

Nevada utilities regulators last week adopted a policy to reduce by 75 percent over five years the amount Las Vegas-area electric company NV Energy pays customers for extra power their produce. The change means rooftop solar customers will pay more of the costs now shifted to non-solar customers to maintain the utility's transmission lines and power generation.

Explore further: Google can tell you if solar roof panels will pay off

Related Stories

SolarCity loan deal could propel rooftop market

October 8, 2014

SolarCity will begin offering loans to homeowners for solar systems, a move that industry analysts say could reshape the market for rooftop solar and propel its rapid adoption.

How solar panels are making waves

November 25, 2015

If you think of electrical current flowing like water from the grid to your home, you can start to imagine the waves your rooftop solar panels create when they try feeding current in the opposite direction.

High efficiency rating shines on Panasonic solar panel

October 13, 2015

How to get more electricity from a given area of solar panels—this is an important question that scientists explore as companies focus on the future of solar panels. Inhabitat said Panasonic has developed the most efficient ...

Google, KKR invest in California solar project

December 20, 2011

Online search and advertising giant Google is teaming with investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. to develop four solar energy farms serving the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California.

Recommended for you

Researchers find tweeting in cities lower than expected

February 20, 2018

Studying data from Twitter, University of Illinois researchers found that less people tweet per capita from larger cities than in smaller ones, indicating an unexpected trend that has implications in understanding urban pace ...

Augmented reality takes 3-D printing to next level

February 20, 2018

Cornell researchers are taking 3-D printing and 3-D modeling to a new level by using augmented reality (AR) to allow designers to design in physical space while a robotic arm rapidly prints the work.

What do you get when you cross an airplane with a submarine?

February 15, 2018

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed the first unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft that is capable of traveling both through the air and under the water – transitioning repeatedly between sky and sea. ...

8 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Hyperfuzzy
not rated yet Jan 03, 2016
Why deface your roof; work as a community and build an artistic solar park!
Nik_2213
not rated yet Jan 03, 2016
Fed up with cold-calls and door-steppers pushing, pushing, pushing solar panels, I took to asking if they'd renew our roof for free, as its old scantlings aren't rated for such loads...

True or not, they stopped asking...
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 04, 2016
Why deface your roof;

What do you mean 'deface your roof'? Solar panels look no more or less attractive than a normal roof (and they increase the resale value of your home).

work as a community and build an artistic solar park!

Unless someone gifts you land to set up one that is way more expensive than putting solar on your roof where you don't have the additional cost of realestate.

david_king
5 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2016
I'd suggest that rooftop solar panels would keep a home marginally cooler in the summer and also help the asphalt roofing last a little longer. I can't come up with a better place to put them. Use arable land to capture carbon.
terrefirma
5 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2016
When cities figure out that covering surface lots and empty commercial roofs, then adding panels lowers energy costs, we will see some activity...
rrrander
1 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2016
All they need is for some eco-freak liberal government to give rich people an $0.82/kwh subsidy to put panels on their roof, and they'll all do it. Of course it's the middle class who foot the subsidy bill that sees inflation of power cost VASTLY outstripping normal inflation.
Lord_jag
not rated yet Jan 10, 2016
First off, 82 cent payout was never offered.
Second, you have to pay taxes on the income and meter fees on top of that.
Third, this method of subsidizing power generation is a bare fraction of the subsidizing it costs for a taxpayer base when they're required to buy outright a coal plant, gas plant, nuclear plant or hydroelectric dam or a private company to operate for private profits.

kochevnik
not rated yet Jan 10, 2016
Also factor in the $trillion USA spends yearly to keep their oil friends in line. That makes fossil electric energy cost over $1/kwH. Or the real possibility there will be no electricity when USA credit bubble pops. Already USA dollar money velocity is lowest ever measured, which means USA is an economic cesspool regardless of economic hype pumped into the MSM

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.