Solar is a big ticket item these days, and for good reason. It’s currently the fastest growing source of energy in the country and the prices for quality panels continue to fall. Unlike electric cars or an integrated grey water system, solar panels offer a way to go green that’s actually affordable for the average homeowner. We’ve broken down the facts and benefits behind going solar before, but—thanks to Google—it’s now possible to check out real time details in terms of monthly savings and costs for a specified address. How much money can you save? How much will the panels cost you? Is solar even a good option for your home? These are all questions Google’s new, aptly named, Project Sunroof can answer.
It works like this: type in your current address or the address of your future home and Project Sunroof does the rest. It’s as simple as Google Maps really, which makes sense because it utilizes a lot of the same technology. Google Earth, 3D roof modeling, cloud and temperature data, and some good old fashioned Mountain View techno wizardry come together to let you know how many hours of usable sunlight a home will get. You’ll then get an estimate of how many available square feet of the roof are available for solar panels.
Scroll down a little further and you’ll see your estimated savings, recommended installation size, and a list of local solar panel providers who can make it all happen. The whole interface is absurdly easy to navigate and understand, and it allows you to customize the results to your specific needs. You can adjust a slider for your monthly power bill as well as view detailed pricing estimates that include upfront costs, annual savings, and 20 year savings. Figures take into account options for leasing panels, acquiring them through a loan, or purchasing them outright which automatically update depending on what you select.
For reference, in San Francisco at 2499 Folsom St, which is the location of Joey and Pat’s Bakery & Coffee, you can see that their establishment stands to gain $700 a year or $14,000 over 20 if they lease a 4 kW system with $0 down. Not bad. Someone should get Joey and Pat to go solar.
It’s quite the impressive tool, but there are a few caveats. For one, the service is currently only available in Boston, San Francisco, and Fresno. If you’re feeling snubbed about losing out to Fresno, you should know that the reason for that is because one of the engineer’s mothers is from there. But that’s networking for you. Also, though Google’s promotion of solar power is admirable—and the benefits of a greener nation can’t be denied—it’s perhaps prudent to mention that the Big G probably isn’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. The list of local panel providers is sponsored, and they’re likely paying a pretty penny for the referred business. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.
So is solar right for you? It is according to Google if:
- You own your home
- You have a roof that isn’t heavily shaded and is in good condition
- Your home uses at least a moderate amount of electricity
- You have a good credit score (this matters only if you prefer to finance your system)
- You live in one of the roughly 35 states with good solar policy
Project Sunroof continues by noting that most quality systems require little maintenance and are designed to function productively for 30 years. In addition, any repairs or issues would be the responsibility of the panel provider for a leased system. Also, for the homeowner who chooses to purchase their system outright, though it’s true that solar panels may increase home insurance, those costs would likely be completely mitigated by the savings in most cases, and still leave room for profit.
Being able to anticipate how much you can save by going solar can help you budget out your costs on a new home. This is actually a benefit over traditional utilities, which fluctuate in price over time. If you look at the political landscape in the country today and shifting attitudes, it’s pretty clear that we’re going solar. The last question you might ever ask about it is: when am I getting on board?