Google: Powering The Future With New Solar API

Can Google Maps help save the planet?  Back in 2014, Google helped a team launch Project Sunroof- an incredibly useful tool that uses Maps data to calculate how much sunlight a building receives and estimates how much solar energy it could generate.  It does this, with the help of a lot of computers and clever engineers, by taking the slope of every roof, plus individual trees (calculating the shadows they cast every hour of every day of the year) to create a complete picture of how much sunlight a roof receives.

Now Google is making the engine that powers Sunroof available to more people with the launch of the Solar API.  That means that partners (real estate websites, solar providers, and more) will have easy access to crucial information that can inform, and possibly persuade, more people to adopt solar energy.

The global energy crisis, higher electricity prices, policy momentum, and reduced costs have driven unprecedented growth in renewable energy, with solar accounting for two-thirds of 2023’s projected increase in global renewable capacity. In fact, we saw global search interest in “rooftop solar power” increase 60% last year on Google. With solar becoming more accessible, there’s increased potential and demand to bring information and technology to solar companies and developers around the world. That’s why today we launched our Solar API, within a new suite of environment APIs from Google Maps Platform. The Solar API surfaces important building, rooftop, shading, and panel configuration data covering over 320 million buildings in 40 countries, with the goal of helping accelerate the transition to clean, renewable, solar energy. 

The development of the Solar API

Years ago, a team at Google launched Project Sunroof to help people understand their estimated solar savings potential by installing a rooftop system. Naturally, companies wanted access to this information so they could better plan and implement solar technology. In order to tailor the product to meet specific business needs, we spent several years working closely with solar industry leaders from around the world to test and develop a comprehensive solar data solution.
The Solar API offers several features that benefit solar marketplace websites, solar installers, SaaS developers, and any user looking to understand rooftop solar potential of a particular address. The API provides two distinct endpoints:

The Building Insights endpoint provides details of a building’s location, dimensions, and solar potential. It contains information such as the size and slope of the roof and the modeled energy production of a rooftop array. This information can be used to assess the potential benefits of installing solar, and can be used by solar professionals to help home and building owners explore and compare different solar configurations.

The Data Layers endpoint returns more granular details in regards to raw solar information for an area surrounding a location. Details include shading that may affect a system’s performance and a digital surface model of the rooftop which can facilitate the detailed system placement and layout. This information can be used by solar installers to create custom solar proposals and by SaaS developers to automate the design of more efficient panel arrays.

Imagery data from the Solar API Data Layers endpoint. From top to bottom: Flux map, building mask, digital surface model (DSM) and RGB (aerial photo)

Explore the demo to see how the Solar API can help accelerate solar deployment.

Improve your solar installation sales process

It’s not unusual for a residential solar design and installation to be a long, multistep time-consuming process. Solar companies typically need to spend time educating property owners, manually measuring rooftops, configuring multiple designs (often with incomplete solar potential information), and preparing financial information–all before closing an installation contract. 
By using the Solar API, solar businesses can improve the customer experience for interested property owners, create reliable project proposals without requiring an on-site visit, and expedite the overall installation process. Each of these elements contributes to accelerating rooftop solar deployment and mitigating carbon emissions. 

Enhance customer experiences 

The Solar API allows companies to build solutions that easily educate and engage potential clients with high quality, visual insights about their rooftop’s solar potential for a specific address. This allows customers to have personalized, relevant information at their fingertips within seconds. Companies can also use the Solar API to provide cost savings estimates, array designs, and reliable quotes without the need for a home visit. Streamlining the sales journey with automated, online access to what consumers need to make a decision, greatly improves customer satisfaction and trust, while naturally increasing conversions with less effort and lower costs.

A longstanding pilot user and now Solar API customer, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) created Suncle, an online rooftop solar energy simulation to make the process of incorporating solar energy as easy and enjoyable as possible. 

“By inputting an address, homeowners can locate their residence on the map, and adjust their electricity bill and solar installation size as they wish. They can find out installation costs, local subsidies available, cost savings, break even point, and how much impact their solar installation could have on reducing CO2, all in a few seconds. To get these figures without Suncle, they would need to have installers visit their house,” says Masami Jenkins, Director, Environment & Social Business Design Lab, TEPCO. “Suncle’s free online solar energy simulations get rid of this initial pain point and bring renewable energy closer to consumers. This is made possible by the Solar API, which calculates and provides every roof’s solar energy potential so that we can provide these insights instantly to homeowners interested in going solar.” 

Create better proposals, save money, and broaden opportunities

With access to advanced data and imagery, solar professionals are able to create detailed, customized solar designs and proposals. Panel layouts that optimize solar energy can be created quickly and easily using clear images showing ridgelines, roof penetrations, obstacles, and shade patterns over time. This helps with accuracy and reduces the potential for reworks on the roof and adjustments to the original quote.

The data and insights provided by the Solar API are focused on replacing costly manual processes with time-saving automated ways to determine a rooftop’s viability and requirements for a solar installation that maximizes the energy potential of each panel. Saving installers time and money, while removing barriers to the finalizing sales.

Additionally, the Solar API’s broad coverage allows professionals to look across neighborhoods and regions to prioritize installation locations, investments, and business growth opportunities. 

Walid Halty, Co-Founder and CEO of Mona Lee, a solar installation company, says, “At Mona Lee Solar, we’re disrupting the solar installation industry using AI to instantly create the optimal solar design to match a homeowner’s energy needs. The Solar API is a key input–it instantly gives us the data we need to analyze rooftops to determine how much sunlight they get to create customer proposals within the same workflow. By doing this remotely and instantly, we have greater cost savings and can provide a better customer experience, helping our business grow quickly in this space.”

Monthly flux imagery from the Solar API Data Layers endpoint showing the rooftop sun and shade over an average year.

Be part of a cleaner future

Accelerating the deployment of clean technology to help mitigate carbon emissions at scale is one of our top priorities, with the Solar API playing an integral role. The transition to clean energy is a critical step in fighting climate change and a key part of Google’s commitment to help individuals, cities, and customers collectively reduce 1 gigaton of their carbon equivalent emissions annually by 2030. By making unique, innovative, building-level solar information accessible to the industry, we hope to enable solutions that lower costs, improve efficiency, and ultimately inspire more people to transition to solar powered energy. 

Looking ahead, we aspire to drive both short-term progress and long-term breakthroughs. No company–no matter how ambitious–can solve a challenge as big as climate change alone. One of the most powerful things we can do is build technology that allows us, our customers, and individuals around the world to take meaningful action. We’re optimistic about what’s possible with the Solar API and our suite of Environment APIs. 

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 7th, 2023 at 5:14 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

Comments are closed.

About This Blog And Its Author
As potential uses for building and parking lot roofspace continue to grow, unique opportunities to understand and profit from this trend will emerge. Roof Options is committed to tracking the evolving uses of roof estate – spanning solar power, rainwater harvesting, wind power, gardens & farms, “cooling” sites, advertising, apiculture, and telecom transmission platforms – to help unlock the nascent, complex, and expanding roofspace asset class.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy. Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation. He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”