Future Tech

Want to Go Solar? Google’s ‘Project Sunroof’ Wants to Help

Matthew Hughes 27-08-2015

Google Maps is an incredible tool How to Re-Discover Your Neighborhood with Local Google Maps Google Maps has helped us rediscover the world. But there still are things to be found closer to home. How do you use Google Maps to discover the hidden pearls of your neighborhood? Read More . It can show you the world around you. It can show you the most direct route from A to Z in almost every country on earth. It can direct you to the best pizza place in town, and help you avoid traffic jams.


But can it save you money on your electricity bill?

Er, actually yes. Meet Project Sunroof. This neat idea was borne from one of Google’s 20% projects – where engineers can dedicate one fifth of their time to their own interests and projects.

Simply put, Project Sunroof allows homeowners to estimate the benefits they’d reap from from installing solar panels. And it’s dead easy too.

Practicing Project Sunroof

Right now, Project Sunroof is only available in a few select markets; the San Francisco Bay area, Fresno, and (bizarrely) Boston. The latter is, of course, not particularly well known for its year-round sunshine, and warm weather. Rather, its biting winters and a 75 foot snow pile that finally melted in June.

Project Sunroof aims to show consumers the potential savings that can come from owning photovoltaics by looking at their property, and performing calculations based upon geographical and weather data.



Not only does it show the average sunshine per year, but it also displays the square footage of roof that could potentially be covered with cells. These are then used to calculate the potential annual savings that can be had.

It even takes into account the orientation and placement of foliage and trees, weather conditions, and even the shade cast by nearby buildings. It’s that good.

You can get a better idea of how much money you’d save by inputting your typical monthly electric bill.



From this, it can make an estimation of how large your solar cell installation should be.


It even breaks down the advantages of leasing, buying, and purchasing on finance a solar installation.



If that’s persuaded you, Google can then put you in touch with selected solar companies who’ll get in touch with a quote.


“A Solar Planel On Every Roof, On Every Building”

It’s not hard to see why Google is so keen to get everyone onboard when it comes to solar power. They’re huge fans of it, and have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into building solar infrastructure worldwide.


Google are one of the biggest investors in Solar City, having dumped $280 million into the company to support the financing of small-scale solar projects throughout the US.

They’re also one of the key financiers behind the Jasper Power Project. This 96 megawatt power station is located in Postmasburg, in South Africa’s Kimberly, and is the biggest solar power plant in the entirety of Africa.

To use a startup term, Google “eats its own dog food”. Their flagship campus in Mountain View, California is attached to a purpose-built, 1.9 megawatt solar power plant. This is so large, it can supply 30% of the Googleplex’s power at peak times. That’s pretty remarkable, given that Google have 11,000 of their 57,000 person workforce based there. That’s almost a small town.


Not only do Google have a vested financial interest in furthering solar technology (particularly in the US where SolarCity operates), but they also have a deep philosophical interest.

They’re a company that takes great efforts to emphasize their green credentials. They’ve even designed their sprawling, power-hungry datacenter to use almost 50% less power than traditional datacenters. Bringing their expertise in this field to the consumer feels very much like a no-brainer to me.

Why This Matters

For the longest time, solar technology has struggled to break into the mainstream What Is Solar Energy And Why Hasn't It Taken Off? What's the big deal with solar energy? If it's really as important and necessary as so many claim it to be, why hasn't it taken over the energy industry yet? Read More . That’s largely due to being remarkably expensive in terms of the initial costs and the relatively meagre electricity provided in return. In fact, they were only really commercially viable thanks to impressive government investments and subsidies.

These, for the most part, are either ending or already gone. But it’s not all bad news for the consumer.

The Gigafactory Goodbye Power Company: Why You May Soon Be Generating Your Own Electricity Solar power allows the clean generation of electricity, using a source that is guaranteed to never run out in our lifetime - the sun. But will it ever beat out the power companies? Read More – Elon Musk’s battery factory extraordinaire – is about to get into full swing, producing affordable Lithium Ion batteries that’ll be able to cheaply collect all the electricity that’s produced during off-peak times.

We’re about to see photovoltaic cells based on Perovskite Efficient. Cheap. Awesome. Here's Why New Spray-On Solar Cells Matter The cost of solar energy is set to drop precipitously after a team of scientists working at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom announced development of solar cells using a spray-on process. Read More hit the market, which promise to exponentially increase their efficiency from below 10%, to as much as 30%. They also promise to do it at a lower price-point too, by incorporating better manufacturing and design processes.


In short, we’re seeing solar technology (and companion battery technology) become cheap and compelling enough, we may one day not need government subsidies.

But whilst this technology exists, there lacks a great marketing tool for it. Google Maps, with its near-universal reach and trusted status, could be enough to push consumers into finally taking the plunge and investing in their own solar cells. Especially when they see the potential financial windfall.

For Governments Too

I can see some useful applications for this within a government context, too.

The beauty of Project Sunlight is that it’s cold, factual, and data driven. When used properly, it could help local government plan where best to invest in solar subsidies, by highlighting the places where they’d be most effective and where they wouldn’t.


This could potentially make it easier for governments to sell solar subsidies to the electorate, particularly in countries where the masses are quite cynical about them, like in the UK, US and Spain.

In the UK especially, green energy subsidies have been blamed by the incumbent conservative government for the spiraling costs of energy. Perhaps Google Sunroof could make them a bit more palatable.

Project Sunroof Is Here

If you live in the few trial areas and you want to find out how much money you can save, click here.

Could this tool persuade you to invest in a new solar system? Still skeptical? I want to hear about it, either way. Drop me a line in the comments below.

Photo Credits: Solar power plant Kollbach (Michael Betke) [No Longer Available],  Solar Panels All Done! (Mike Spassof)

Related topics: Energy Conservation, Green Technology, Solar Energy.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 28, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Project sunroof is a great step to make the benefits of solar power more accessible.

    If you are not a household in San Francisco or Boston, but running a business in a different country, check out http://www.freesolaraudit.com

    We do for businesses in emerging solar markets, what google’s project sunroof does for residential clients in the US.
    You can get a free solar audit, that will tell you how much solar power you could install at your business, how much power it will produce for you and how much money you can save with it.

    Go Solar. Save Money.

  2. Anonymous
    August 28, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    What a great idea! We just completed installation of solar tower mounts in our field yesterday. Waiting for electric company to come and change a meter. Had we not had a terrific spot in our field, this app would have come in extremely handy.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      Oh wow, that's really exciting! Congrats on making the switch so solar! How're you finding it so far?

  3. Anonymous
    August 28, 2015 at 12:28 am

    Whilst I understand the need to start small in limited places, could not the tools that give estimates on where to put the panels and production etc be available globally?

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Probably. I think Google are just testing out whether there's demand for Project Sunroof, and if the data can be reliably and accurately scaled into other markets. I could be wrong though.

  4. Anonymous
    August 27, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    "Project Sunroof is only available in a few select markets; the San Francisco Bay area, Fresno, and (bizarrely) Boston."
    Actually solar energy is more cost effective for New England (Boston) than for sunny Arizona. That's because even though Arizona has more sun, electricity rates in New England are higher, and solar panels operate more efficiently in cooler weather.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      TIL about New England having higher electricity rates! Thanks so much.

  5. Anonymous
    August 27, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    "Google Maps, with its near-universal reach and trusted status"
    The "near-universal reach" scares the crap out of me. How much other data does Google have on all of us?

    "Trusted status" is a very arguable point.

    Instead of mandating all kinds of feel-good, harebrained, politically correct social engineering schemes, the government could/should mandate the use of solar technology, especially on public buildings. Government should lead by example and outfit all governmental buildings with solar panels instead of just paying lip service to solar technology. If governments at all levels won't install solar because of expense, how is a private citizen expected to afford solar?

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 30, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      I'm not sure what political correctness has to do with solar technology, but I agree. I want Solar to be mandated everywhere. I want energy independence, dammit.

      • Anonymous
        August 30, 2015 at 2:23 pm

        "I’m not sure what political correctness has to do with solar technology"
        Solar technology gets little funding from the government because the money is needed to "help those less fortunate than us". Social programs are a big part of the US Government's budget. Many of those programs are nothing more than a cynical attempt to buy votes for politicians. If part of the money wasted on useless social programs were directed towards alternative energy generations, such as equipping ALL government buildings with solar panels, America would be on its way to replacing fossil fuels. Besides, government should lead by example.

        Before anyone starts flaming me for being insensitive to the plight of the underprivileged, know that I worked for over 20 years with those that administer the social programs and I can tell you most of the programs are a big waste of money. Very little money gets to those intended. Most of the money is lost to "friction", it sticks to various fingers along the way. But the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of social programs in the US is a topic for another discussion.

  6. Anonymous
    August 27, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    The "Click here" doesn't seem to work; no link.