Perhaps you should. San Francisco’s recently introduced map of the city’s solar systems puts the rest of you non-solar roof owners to shame. I had no idea the city had ramped up so much on solar, or that its solar initiatives, aimed towards its goal of 10,000 solar roofs, appear to really be paying off. And SF is just the beginning. New mapping programs are consolidating solar data, system performance, and information on solar installers in a big way. At the most basic level, these maps serve to make radiation data much more easily available to consumers – which is key to figuring out the payback time on a system.

If you look closely at the San Francisco solar map and click on the little red dots, which represent the SF Public Utility Commission’s monitoring stations, you can see how much solar radiation a particular system has been receiving month to month. The consolidated solar map was created by a Colorado-based engineering services company called CH2M Hill, which is now being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to provide similar solar initiatives for 25 cities across the country. The company’s techniques include detailed local assessments of rooftop quality – for example, the presence of things like air conditioning units and ducts, the direction of the sun, the roof’s slant, and the shadows cast by other structures – to cut down the uncertainties in planning a site survey. So you enter an address into the mapping tool, and up pops an estimate of that location’s solar potential: projections on the amount of electricity produced, the electricity savings, and the resulting carbon savings.

Another interesting company is also taking on the renewable-energy resource mapping challenge – 3Tier, based in Seattle, just launched a comprehensive solar radiation map of the Western Hemisphere, apparently at 3 times the resolution of existing U.S. solar radiation maps. The solar mapping, which is ongoing, is part of the company’s Remapping the World initiative, which seeks to capture and model the energy potential for solar, wind, and hydro installations across the world, country by country. Last March, it released its comprehensive U.S. wind potential map.

Story by Sandra Upson. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008.

San Francisco's solar initiatives paying off
The map of the city makes radiation data much more easily available to consumers – which is key to figuring out the payback time on a system.