Mapping solar's true potential

The future for how we identify solar resources is here and the benefits could see solar soar to new heights.

The Mapdwell Solar System project has just blown my mind. For those of you who haven’t come across it before, this project is a glimpse into the future of how rooftop solar resources will be identified – and it’s happening now.

Piloted in 2012 by a very clever bunch of folks from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard, the project’s intention is to “assist every possible community in providing relevant urban information to individuals to help them transform information into action.”

Simply put, if you objectively demonstrate to building owners what’s possible with rooftop PV, they will be more likely to pick up the phone and start their local solar snowball rolling.

I’ve been watching this project for a while now and they just announced that they are moving to the next level, inviting participation from other cities, regions and countries. For now, it’s a demonstration based on Cambridge, Massachusetts where they have focused their testing but, like me, I encourage you to get online and enter your city’s details, requesting mapping support them.

Cambridge, for example, has 17,408 buildings mapped which are capable of 789,917 MWh of annual energy generation potential.

What’s fantastic about this tool is that it shows a neat summary of real energy by using high-resolution (one metre by one metre grid) LiDAR data (Light Detection and Ranging) to create a three-dimensional model of the sample terrain that accounts for the shape of building rooftops and structures, existing infrastructure, and tree foliage. The model is later used as the base for evaluating the amount of solar irradiation that falls on each unit of surface – for every single hour of a typical year – and determining its individual potential for solar electric generation using PV.

Energy potential is displayed using colour coded dots and you can edit some, (but not all) of the input assumptions to tailor the outcomes to a particular case.

Simple, effective, open source PV cost estimation anyone?

This project has further astounding ramifications if you let your imagination go for a second, because the University of NSW, University of South Australia, Australian PV Association, Epuron and  Bureau of Meteorology have already received funding from the Australian Solar Institute for a project that would cross over beautifully.

The UNSW-led project is in simple terms looking at the issue of mapping solar generation potential in (close to) real time which would allow solar generators to forecast peaks and dips in generation across our entire nation. In doing so, the opportunity to forecast and deliver energy when it is most needed is enhanced dramatically and the industry can also work with the National Electricity Market to call for peaking support when demand is high and generation is low.

Dispatchable solar generation anyone? 

I see the potential for these two tools to work in concert, providing a quite incredible leap forward in mapping potential and real solar results. Add to that the ability to count the MWh in real time and potentially map the progression of the solar snowball and the ‘haters’ would be squirming in their seats.

Revolution in real time anyone?

There’s no indication how long this project will take to spread or what the costs might be, but it has so much potential to help the solar industry. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that if every stakeholder in the industry threw in $100, there would be a good chance we could get some local examples happening, to our mutual benefit.

Nigel Morris is the director of Solar Business Services.

This article was originally published by SolarBusinessServices. Republished with permission.