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NEWS: Los Angeles County Launches Solar Map on Microsoft Virtual Earth

April 22,2009

Just in time for Earth Day, Los Angeles County officials this week unveiled a solar mapping program that allows homeowners and businesses to go online to determine if their properties are good candidates for solar power. The  Los Angeles County Solar Map application leverages the power of Microsoft Virtual Earth to provide the data visualization and serves as the front end user interface for the application.

The program uses roof size, pitch and shading from nearby trees, buildings and mountains to provide a building’s solar potential and the potential value of installing solar panels. To better understand this, the site provides “About your estimate” information, but I received the following details from Mark Greninger, Geographic Information Officer for the County:

“Basically we used our high resolution elevation model taken using LIDAR during our 2006 Imagery Capture (see for details), and ran ESRI’s Solar Radiation Model for the entire county (this took 30 days on an 8-processor server).  This calculation includes the effects of roof pitch, chimneys, trees, etc to provide the areas of a roof that are good for solar.  The roof area itself was pulled from a calculation using the Infrared imagery. From that point I used GIS analysis to attach the property information to all of the results, and then summarized the results for each property.  Moving forward we are looking to figure out how to show the 350 million individual values that go into the results.”

The County, as a major electricity user, with facilities spread across a wide geography, seems a natural test-bed for the implementation of solar energy systems. But the decision to install a solar energy system is generally difficult because it involves complex factors such as: the solar electricity potential (based on geography and building characteristics), installation costs, availability of rebates, estimated energy savings, identifying reputable installation contractors, performing return on investment (ROI) calculations, and who to contact to get started.

But LA County officials consider it a fiscally responsible move in an effort to reduce electricity costs by installing solar systems and believed a Solar Map would provide a simple and elegant solution, utilizing existing aerial imagery, solar potential software and a solar engineering model to provide potential solar installation information for any building.

As you would expect with a Virtual Earth application, the map features pushpins to represent the different data layers, in this case Government (green), Residential (yellow), Commercial (pink), Schools/libraries (cyan), Non-profits (blue), and Zip Code Summaries (red). Mousing over the pushpin provides information for that particular installation or a summary of all installations for an entire zip code (installations are combined to create a total figure).  The red dot represents the center point of the zip code only.

I am thrilled to see that the County implemented Virtual Earth’s 3D environment for its users to navigate its buildings and terrain in the intuitive manner that only Virtual Earth 3D provides. Internal Services Director Tom Tindall, suggests through the County’s press release that this additional level of detail will help the County itself to “evaluate and implement cost-effective installations, including solar power and solar water heaters.”


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