Along with a steady stream of cheaper, more efficient solar technology, the solar industry is beginning to offer a growing number of tools that let prospective customers calculate their potential savings more accurately. Virginia-based startup Geostellar is one such example. The company has developed a type of high resolution computer modeling it calls Big-Data Geomatics for Business Intelligence and Decision Support, which it presents in a variety of graphic, user-friendly forms. Geomatics is the science – some would say the art – of gathering, analyzing and using geographic information. GPS is one example of a geomatic discipline that has crossed over from scientific applications to become a near-essential part of daily life, and tools like Big-Data Geomatics could quickly become another.
Geomatics and Solar Energy
The application of geomatics to solar installations makes for a high degree of precision. Geostellar’s system enables users to view data on factors that directly affect solar installation efficiency such as latitude, atmospheric conditions, slope, and shadow at both ground level and rooftop elevations. The emphasis is on presenting the data in user friendly formats that can be evaluated by persons without an extensive technical background.
A Step Up for Geomatics
Geostellar’s innovation is to combine this somewhat conventional geomatic information with data on other factors that can exert a significant influence on the cost-effectiveness of a particular solar installation. Local utility rates and the existence (or non-existence) of local incentives are a couple of examples that come to mind. The company also includes information on property values, property ownership, transmission capacity, relevant infrastructure such as roadways, and other critical factors.
A Broader Role for Solar Installers
Geostellar’s Big-Data Geomatics system is designed primarily to help solar installers and other users make decisions based on cost-effectiveness and profitability. It can also help regional and national installers focus their marketing efforts on areas where results are most likely to be significant, without incurring the expense of using field researchers, at least in the initial stages of decision making. In addition, the high level of detail could provide solar installers with enough information (and incentive) to support local efforts to promote solar energy. Aside from identifying areas with the best potential, the information would enable companies to identify areas in which positive factors outweigh the negatives, and work with local communities to overcome those obstacles. In this regard, systems like Big-Data Geomatics will become a powerful tool for governments, planners, civic groups, and other non-commercial customers.
Information is the Key to a Sustainable Future
Geostellar’s system is linked to Google Earth, and they are not the only ones to tap into the application of this rich source of data for sustainable decision making. Researchers at the University of California have used Google Earth to fine-tune a solar efficiency map that takes peak usage rates into account for calculating cost-effectiveness, and the solar power company Sungevity has been using satellite imaging as a promotional tool to catch the attention of prospective solar customers. Next-generation data collection and analysis will also play key roles in other areas such as wind power marketing and urban tree planting.
Image: Solar panels by Pink Dispatcher on flickr.com.