Monday, December 22, 2008

Solar maps could help community energy planning

Time has an article today about engineering firm CH2M Hill's efforts to map renewable energy potential in cities. They worked with the city of San Francisco and Google maps to create a map that shows solar installations and the potential for solar power in each neighborhood. A homeowner can zoom in to a satellite image of her roof to see exactly how much solar energy she could potentially harvest and what the savings would be in terms of carbon emissions. The site also tracks the number of solar installations and total ghg savings citywide. It's pretty fun to play with.

Considering renewable energy development and efficiency projects in terms of microclimates at the neighborhood or even individual street level seems to be an idea taking hold in several communities across the country. The University of Nebraska has a pilot project to help a neighborhood lower its energy use by 25 percent, for example.

And I've heard from one sustainable development planner in Portland that there's a regional effort underway in Portland and Seattle to create energy districts -- local improvement districts in Oregon legalese -- to help pay for neighborhood energy projects. All ratepayers in the district would pay the same set amount for utility bills, creating a pool of money to complete efficiency projects and incentive to encourage their neighbors to do the same. It seems like CH2M Hill's renewable energy maps would be useful in directing energy investments at the community level.

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