Google tool calculates the costs, savings of solar installations

Google hopes to promote solar use with better information about it, including the risks

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Houses equipped with solar panels, storage batteries and LED lights are designed to eventually be CO2 emissions-free.

Credit: IDG News Service/Tim Hornyak

A new Google tool will allow homeowners to discover how much they might, or might not, save by installing solar panels on a rooftop.

With Project Sunroof, Google claims it can use its expansive data in mapping and computing resources to help calculate the best solar plan for a homeowner, renter or even someone who's leasing.

The website also provides a guide for what to expect during the solar installation process.

"As the price of installing solar has gotten less expensive, more homeowners are turning to it as a possible option for decreasing their energy bill. We want to make installing solar panels easy and understandable for anyone," Google said on its Project Sunroof webpage.

Project Sunroof looks up your home address in Google Maps and then uses current solar industry pricing data to run the numbers on leasing, taking a loan, or buying solar panels for the house. It will then compute the savings.

The Google service also determines how much sunlight hits your roof in a year through the use of Google's database of aerial imagery and maps, 3D modeling of the rooftop, shadows cast by nearby structures and trees and all possible sun positions over the course of a year.

The database even takes into account historical cloud and temperature patterns that might affect solar energy production. Google's tool can also connect you with a solar installation company.

For now, Project Sunroof is only offering the service for the San Francisco Bay area, Fresno, Calif. and around greater Boston. (A test of one address in the greater Boston suburbs returned a message stating that Project Sunroof has yet to reach that area.)

Besides specific information about a homeowner's projected solar costs and savings, Project Sunroof also offers general information, such as what types of rooftops are best for solar, what financial considerations should be taken into account and what the risks may be.

In compiling a specific home or business owner's final installation costs, Project Sunroof includes incentives from federal and state tax credits, utility rebates and renewable energy credits and net metering.

Net metering is the ability to sell any excess power generated from solar panels back to a utility.

When you enter your address, Project Sunroof creates a "personalized roof analysis," and based on your roof's dimensions, recommends a solar installation size that will generate close to 100% of your home's electricity use.

Google claims it won't share your address with anyone else, "unless you ask it to."

"We recommend an installation that covers less than 100% of your electrical usage because, in most areas, there is little financial benefit to producing more power than you can consume," Project Sunroof said in its marketing material.

This story, "Google tool calculates the costs, savings of solar installations" was originally published by Computerworld.

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