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Original Content & Curated News Featuring Sustainable Endeavors in Coastal Virginia & beyond.

Project Sunroof Coverage

Project Sunroof Coverage

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Watts on your Rooftop: Map Program Measures PV Potential

Posted 5 April 2017 by Carol Brighton

Google's online platform, "Project Sunroof," provides highly detailed solar info on 60 million rooftops in all 50 states. The program covering about half of all U.S. households includes much of the Hampton Roads metro area. The project was developed partly in response to the company's own commitment to clean energy, Google's world-wide operations are on track to be powered entirely by renewables this year. The main driver of the endeavor was an overwhelming volume of search engine queries.

The solar curious have flocked to Google looking for information on photovoltaic costs, set up, energy potential, incentives, and more. With search results taking users to sites scattered across the web that are rarely individualized or location specific, it can be a time consuming and confusing process for the average homeowner to gauge solar potential and return on investment. Project Sunroof has made the process of evaluating rooftop solar viability effortless. According to Google's Energy & Sustainability Principal, Joel Conkling, "if a user comes to the site and enters their address, they can get a very quick intuitive and customized answer about whether solar is a good option for them."

Using advanced analytics and the same high resolution 3D imagery behind Google Earth, the Sunroof mapping platform provides pertinent information in one click. Not only can visitors instantaneously determine if their rooftop is suitable for solar, they can see how much power a system could supply given the amount of usable roof space and the cost of that system by buying it outright, leasing or financing it. Climate and site factors like the slope, shading, and orientation of a roof along with government programs and energy rates for the specified address are used to calculate pay back times and savings over the life of the system. And it turns out, a whole lot of people can do something good for the environment and save money or at least break even. Google reports that 79% of rooftops analyzed nation-wide are solar viable. Results locally are similar. Viability ratings are 78% in Virginia Beach, 75% in Hampton and 69% in Norfolk.

SEIA Solar Growth

Graph: GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight Report

Falling Costs Fuel Surge in Industry Expansion

There's no question that solar is good for the environment and potentially your pocketbook, but it's also a big job creator supporting local workforces. Plummeting prices fueled a surge in industry growth. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that in 2016 the PV market grew by 97% and for the first time ever, solar ranked as the number one source of new electric generating capacity, accounting for 39% of all production. Abigail Ross Hopper, the SEIA's president and CEO commented, “it would be hard to overstate how impressive 2016 was for the solar industry. Prices dropped to all-time lows, installations expanded in states across the country and job numbers soared." The Solar Foundation recently announced that over the last 4 years, solar jobs have grown by 20% or more annually. This coincides with a 60% decline in PV prices over the last decade, with prices dropping 20% on average last year alone. Given the current solar climate, it should come as no big surprise the solar industry experienced record-breaking growth.¬†Perhaps more importantly, the cumulative U.S. solar market is expected to nearly triple in size over the next five years.

Exploding solar demand has also arrived in the Commonwealth, driving a rapid rise in jobs. Virginia solar jobs rose a whopping 65% between 2015 to 2016. The Hampton Roads metro region topped that with a 75% increase. Much of the growth in Virginia and across the country was in the utility sector, but according to a report from NREL, rooftop PV has the potential to meet 39% of US electricity demand. While Virginia's share of that is slightly less, rooftops still represent a great opportunity.

Making Solar More Affordable

Aggregating clients together, solar co-ops help cut hardware and installation costs. Through the Community Power Network, VASUN leads solarize campaigns which facilitate group purchases across the state. With a competitive bidding process and bulk purchase of equipment, participants are able to reduce overall system costs. The co-ops so far have helped 500 Virginia homeowners install solar at a savings of $1.5 million while supporting local business.

Another program under investigation in Virginia that can assist solar expansion is property assessed clean energy (PACE) finance. The Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy just received a $500,000 grant to facilitate the establishment of local programs. The Commonwealth is currently only considering commercial PACE financing and as the first community to launch a clean energy finance program, Arlington County will serve as the state's guinea pig. PACE programs typically allow property owners to finance 100% of solar costs amortizing the purchase into property taxes that convey in a real estate transfer for up to 20 years. VASUN reports that Arlington is looking to tie their assessments to utility bills, instead of property taxes, so non-profit organizations can likewise benefit from the program. Whereever the assessments are made, the financing mechanism allows property owners to go solar without any up-front costs. The ideal projects are cash-flow positive from day one, meaning that the system assessments are offset or even exceeded by savings in reduced electric utility consumption.

Read more about clean energy in the Commonwealth, including a solar training initiative for transitionally vets at Tidewater Community College here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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