Image credit: David Monniaux

Solar power is great: the Sun is beaming down tons of free energy from the sky, and all we have to do is reach out and take it. With continually advancing solar panel technology, it’s a clean, efficient, and potentially cost effective option for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint.

The only trouble is, getting solar panels installed on your home can be tricky (and expensive). How do you know if enough sun shines on your roof? How much will it cost? Will it really save you money? And who should you call to have them installed? There can be a lot of research and work involved, and many people are deterred from going solar because they just aren’t sure where to start.

Thankfully, a new tool developed by Google is aiming to simplify the entire process. Project Sunroof, led by Google engineer Carl Elkin, offers a straightforward way to find out if solar is the right choice for your home: All you have to do is type in your address.

"We're really very excited. We think that this is important both for Google and for the country. It provides very useful information for a lot of people who are coming to Google anyways to start their solar journey," Elkin said.

Using information from Google Maps, Project Sunroof pulls up data about how much tree cover you have, as well as how much of your roof is shaded by nearby buildings. It also takes into account the position of the Sun throughout the year, as well as information on historical weather patterns that could potentially affect the efficiency of a solar panel system. It even creates a 3D model of your roof and suggests the most efficient solar panel size and configuration.

Once you've determined that solar will work for your house (if it will), Project Sunroof can tell you how much switching will cost you, providing estimates on buying or leasing solar panels, as well as information on available tax credits and rebates. And, of course, if you're still on the fence, it can give you an estimate of how much you could save on your monthly electricity bill.

"The cost of solar power is at a record low," Elkin said, "A typical solar home can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year on their electricity bill. But, as a volunteer with the Boston-based solar program Solarize Massachusetts and a solar homeowner myself, I've always been surprised at how many people I encounter who think that 'my roof isn't sunny enough for solar,' or 'solar is just too expensive."

Elkin hopes that for many, this tool could be the final nudge to overcome fears about difficulty and cost, and finally make the switch to clean, renewable energy. If you decide that going solar is right for you, Project Sunroof also provides a list of local installers to help you get started.

Unfortunately, Project Sunroof is still in its early stages, and can currently only provide information for locations in Fresno and the San Francisco Bay Area in California, as well as in Boston, Massachusetts. If you aren't in one of these areas, don’t despair - Elkin says that in the coming months, Project Sunroof will be available to people in more and more locations.

So be sure to bookmark the page.

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