Google Earth has revolutionized our mapping of the Earth both from an overhead and on the ground perspective – and now it seems set to do the same for the increasing number of people, encouraged by the reducing technology costs, who want to go green and reduce their energy costs by installing solar PV.
Enter Project Sunroof as a new online tool that uses the same high-resolution aerial mapping used by Google Earth to help users to calculate their rooftop solar energy potential. It works by simply entering an address. Then taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings and local weather patterns, the amount of sunlight hitting the roof throughout the year is calculated. The results can be further customized by entering a typical electric bill to estimate the potential savings with solar panels, and it can also help connect users with local solar providers.
Currently the tool is under test and only available in the San Francisco Bay area, Fresno in central California and the Boston area, but the intention is to make it more widely available over the coming months, presumably initially in the United States but ultimately hopefully, like the other Earth features, on a global basis.
Google’s foot in energy
Will Project Sunroof prove to consolidate Google’s foot with consumers in the energy sector?
In explanation for the offering, the company states its longstanding belief in zero-carbon energy, and solar power as a central part of that vision. “We want to make installing solar panels easy and understandable for anyone. Project Sunroof puts Google's expansive data in mapping and computing resources to use, helping calculate the best solar plan for you,” states the project website.
As an energy user Google has indicated its intention to become a 100% renewable energy powered company and it has widely invested in generation projects both in the US and elsewhere such as South Africa. [Engerati-Google Sees Green]
Playing with Nest
At a consumer level, Google’s first foray into the sector was with the PowerMeter web-based energy monitoring tool in 2009 – which can be seen as a forerunner to the Green Button – but that was withdrawn in 2011 due to the limited uptake. In that same year Google invested US$280 million in SolarCity to support new PV installations and at the start of 2014 the company purchased Nest Labs, maker of the smart thermostat. [Engerati-The Google Smart Home Play]
These activities indicate a clear intent to be part of the smart home and distributed generation market. With Project Sunroof, Google is set to become effectively the first port of call for many consumers looking to install solar PV and their conduit to installers. Combined with Nest, with the opportunity to optimize the energy flow, this could also see Google move to the heart of home energy management.