Want to make the switch to solar power in your home? Google it.
In August, Google announced the launch of Project Sunroof, a tool to help homeowners determine whether using solar power is feasible for them. The Project Sunroof tool uses the same aerial mapping as Google Earth to calculate the size of your roof and how much sun it gets per year. Then, by entering your monthly electric bill, you can browse different financing options to see if solar power makes financial sense for your home.
“The tool then combines all this information to estimate the amount you could potentially save with solar panels, and it can help connect you with local solar providers,” Carl Elkin, Engineering Lead for Project Sunroof, wrote on the Google Green Blog.
I don’t own my own home yet, but in many ways Google already owns me (I shudder to think how helpless and alone I’d be without G-chat or Google Maps), so when I first heard about Project Sunroof, I was in. I went to the website, entered my zip code and… nothing.
That’s because—for now—Project Sunroof only works for residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno, California, and the greater Boston area. Still, that means approximately 12 million people now have access to a tool that could help them learn more about making the switch to sustainable energy.
How can we expand Project Sunroof to more conscious consumers? The feedback tab on the Project Sunroof website is on full display, and I’m sure Google would love to hear from its users about where, when and how to best expand this valuable program.
For instance, expanding Project Sunroof in just the mid-Atlantic region—where Groundswell is bringing communities together to create the demand for solar energy at a reasonable price—could have a huge impact on not only Groundswell solar, but also other sustainable energy projects in the area.
Right now, solar is a difficult issue to understand—should you go on the market alone for your solar panels? Should you work through an organization? Should you invest in community solar? What are the prices—and how can you decide how they compare to your regular energy bill?
Imagine if you could find all the basics on solar in your hometown in one place.
It would also greatly raise the profile of all options for solar power in the mid-Atlantic. And who knows: with more people learning about their options for solar power—and hopefully using that knowledge to take action—maybe it could create the kind of competitive marketplace that would convince solar companies to lower their prices even more.
In the end, solar power is not going to be for everyone. Even in the areas where Project Sunroof has already launched, a huge portion of the population rents instead of owning a home; were the project to expand to the D.C. area, the same issue would prevail. But Project Sunroof puts the issue on more consumers’ radar in a big way, so I’ll be interested to watch how it gets bigger and brighter in the months and years to come.
Stephanie Levy is a writer, editor, and web producer living in the D.C. area. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she has covered everything from education policy to dumpster-diving for beer (seriously). If you’re a fan of feminism, online sarcasm, and/or the St. Louis Cardinals, follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephanie_levy.