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Thinking About Solar Panels? Project Sunroof Maps Solar Panel Effectiveness

A satellite view of a neighborhood, showing how much sun each roof gets.

You’ve thought about putting solar panels on your house but does your definition of “Yup, seems sunny” align with what a bank of solar panels would actually require? Enter Project Sunroof.

Conceived as a “20% time” project by Google Engineer Carl Elkin, Project Sunroof cleverly marries Google Maps satellite data with a calculator that analyzes sun exposure based on location, the orientation of the home, roof surface area, and nearby trees. The end result is a pretty solid estimate of whether or not your home’s roof would be a good place to park a solar panel installation.

The Project Sunroof interface showing how many hours of sun a home gets and the estimated savings over 20 years.

On top of the easy-to-read heat map seen above, the Project Sunroof calculator pulls in data from a variety of sources to estimate what your savings look like. This includes running calculations on how much sun you get, the cost of electricity, what federal and state tax credits are available based on the address, and so on.

What’s really fascinating is how significantly the return on investment can vary. While playing around with the calculator we selected addresses of friends and family around the United States, and the estimated net savings for a 20 year ownership period ranged from as low as $2,000 to as high as $40,000—with payback periods as quick as 3 years to as long as 19 years.

The results aren’t definitive, but they give a quick and easy look at whether it’s worth calling a solar panel contractor to get a more refined estimate or if your home is clearly a poor fit for such a project. You can read more about the project here and see if your neighborhood is part of the growing database of analyzed areas.

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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