A start-up company called Sun Number believes it has a new way of getting solar on peoples’ homes and commercial buildings – by using big data.
So far, it has rated whether some 7.5 million rooftops – in eight metropolitan areas – have enough sun to benefit from solar.
Type in your address in their online tool and you’ll get a 0-100 score on how your roof ranks for solar. A score of 70 or more means you should consider adding solar panels and a score of 100 means you have an ideal roof for solar.
Using aerial maps, Sun Number takes a 3-D snapshot of the property – it can accurately depict shading caused by nearby buildings and trees, the angle and shape of the roof and local climatic details.
"We are trying to simplify the process for people," CEO Ryan Miller told Star Tribune. "The solar industry uses terms like kilowatts and kilowatt hours, and the average owner is left to scratch his head and say, ‘What does that mean?’ ”
In the Los Angeles area, they found that putting solar on just 6 buildings would generate $1 million a year in electricity. Disneyland could generate $750,000 a year with its score of 96, Warner Brothers gets a 93, the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena gets 87, and Hollywood Sound Studios scores 90.
How does Sun Number make money? When someone contacts a solar installer through its website, they get a referral fee. Although many installers use Google Maps to do evaluate a home’s potential for solar, Sun Number is developing a tool they can use to quickly screen out homes that aren’t appropriate.
Using their tools, solar installers could do a wide sweep of an area to target their best prospects.
"What we are really looking to do is to get the solar industry on board with using our data to acquire customers and evaluate properties a lot less expensively," co-founder David Herrmann told Star Tribune.
That’s important, because the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative is focused on reducing the soft costs of solar, which currently adds as much as $2500 to a system. DOE has given Sun Number $1.4 million in grants to get the technology off the ground.
Another company that’s automating this time-consuming manual evaluation is Geostellar, which combines this kind of data with local utility rates and incentives to inform property owners on their payback period for installing solar.
Solar maps are also being used in NYC and San Francisco, and environmental groups developed Google maps to guide renewable energy development on public lands. There is even a solar map of the western hemisphere.
Here’s Sun Number’s website: