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Basking In The Sunshine: Google Could Drive Consumer Solar Growth

March 18, 2017 10:13 am
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Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL)'s Google is betting heavily on sunshine with its Project Sunroof. As environmental issues take the center stage, alternative clean energy sources such as solar energy are gaining traction. And Google isn't one to pass off a promising opportunity.

Having started the project in August 2015, Google sees this avenue as providing it with the leeway to leverage its expansive data in mapping and computing resources to help calculate the best solar plan for consumers. Founded by Google engineer Carl Elkin, the project's stated purpose is "mapping the planet's solar potential, one roof at a time."

Solar Potential

Joel Conkling, the product manager overseeing Google's solar initiative, outlined the insights the company gained through the analysis of 60 million buildings nationwide in a March 1 blog post. These were the findings in nutshell:

  • 79 percent of all rooftops assessed were technically viable or had an unshaded area for setting up solar panels.
  • The viability percentage varies between states, with Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico having the highest viability of over 90 percent. However, states like Pennsylvania, Maine and Minnesota have just above 60 percent viability.
  • Among cities, Houston, Texas ranked high in solar potential, with an estimated 18,940 gigawatt-hours of solar generation potential per year. The other cities which follow Houston included Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio and New York.

Based on the EIA estimate of an average power requirement of 10,812 kilowatt-hours per year for an average U.S. home, Google said if the top 10 cities in terms of solar potential attain their full potential, the power generated would power 8 million homes across the U.S.

Conkling's blog also outlined the usage of data explorer tools for consumers to deduce rooftop solar potential across U.S. zip codes, cities, counties and states. And for those looking to calculate solar and financial savings potential, Google launched the Project Sunroof savings estimator tool in 2015.

Using a single sample address in Massachusetts, Google estimated that the building has 1,479 hours of usable sunlight per year (arrived at by day-to-day analysis of weather patterns) and 497 square feet available for solar models (based on 3-D modelling of roof and nearby areas). The company estimates net savings of $18,000 for the household over 20 years.

Consumer Solar An Attractive Opportunity

Estimates by the Solar Energy Industry Association show that the U.S. installed 14,800 megawatts of solar PV in 2016, with the total installed capacity now at 42.4 gigawatts — enough to power 8.3 million homes. The association estimates the industry will nearly triple over the next five years.

GTM Research expects the residential segment to rise 9 percent year-over-year in 2017. This follows a 19 percent increase in 2016, which saw a slowdown from the scorching pace in 2015, which benefited from the emergence of several new state markets.

Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

California, which accounts for about half of the U.S. residential market, is projected to see a decline, while the rest of the 36 states are projected to have year-over-year growth.

Data from Energy Sage lists SolarCity Corp, which is now part of Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA), and Vivint Solar Inc (NYSE:VSLR) among companies that are significant players in the residential solar energy space.

With Google's consumer solar drive, the residential market could see a renewed thrust. Growth could pick up from the lackluster rate seen now, as more and more people warm to this technology and other factors driving growth, such as government support and financing.

Related link: Solar ETF Looks For Short Covering Support

Related link: Solar Power Is Already Cheaper Than Coal In Several Countries

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