Solar Potential, Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt

Installing solar panels on rooftops as a means to reduce both utility costs and carbon footprints is steadily gaining popularity worldwide, but when it comes to being suitable for solar array installation, not all roofs are created equal. Luckily, a new tool has been created by a team of scientists from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, that can measure the suitability of rooftops for solar installations. And it doesn’t just measure the solar energy potential of one roof, but can measure the potential of whole neighborhoods and even entire towns.

The tool, called the Solar Energy from Existing Structures (SEES), is based on geographical information systems that read the information of existing roofs as well as their surroundings. It creates a three-dimensional model of the roof and their surroundings, taking into account shadows thrown by trees, land forms and other buildings, as well as the direction and gradient of the roofs, to calculate their potential for gathering solar energy, measured in kilowatt hours per square meter.

image via University of Gothenburg

The project was funded by the City Plannning Administration of Gothenburg and the Region Västra Götaland County Council, along with several other research programs. The SEES system will be available for both commercial and municipal uses.

image via University of Gothenburg

“The roof structures of a town may be more or less suitable for the installation of solar panels, depending on such factors as how much a particular roof is shadowed by surrounding buildings and vegetation, the gradient of the roof, and the angle of incidence of sunlight,” said Fredrik Lindberg, of the university’s Department of Earth Sciences. “It is now possible for the first time to determine how much solar energy a particular roof will receive during the year.”

Laura Caseley is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a resident of New York State’s Hudson Valley. She writes for several publications and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found painting in her makeshift studio or enjoying the scenery of her hometown.

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