Innovative map displays solar potential of individual buildings

| October 1, 2014

When it comes to sustainability-focused design and business models, it probably takes a whole lot to impress the folks at Fast Company’s Co.Exist. Eduardo Berlin, an architect and designer from Cambridge, Massachusetts, has done just that. Berlin’s project, dubbed Mapdwell, plots “the solar potential of every individual roof in cities like Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.”

If that sounds like an awful lot of work, that’s because it is. And Mapdwell is very new, but Berlin’s tireless efforts have paid off already. Mapdwell is a finalist for Fast Company‘s 2014 Innovation by Design awards.

solar potential

Mapdwell analyzes the solar potential of city buildings. From Elliott Brown.

Mapdwell can trace its origins to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where the technology was born. Rather than sending a specialized contractor out to every dwelling in a city in order to assess for solar potential, Mapdwell’s technology “takes LIDAR data from aerial mapping flights and creates detailed, one-by-one meter resolution 3D models of the terrain, complete with roof shapes and tree foliage.”

But creating these incredibly detailed maps is just the beginning. Then Mapdwell takes into account weather patterns based on averages of historical data. It breaks that historical data down by the hour. That translates to “8,600 data points for every pixel” of every map.

The combination of roof modeling, evaluation of obstructions such as trees, and consideration of weather patterns, adds up to an impressively nuanced depiction of a certain building’s potential as a location for solar panels.

To put Mapdwell to work, a user simply has to type in an address in a participating city and they’ll be rewarded with detailed information about the property’s solar potential.

Berlin explains why this information is so valuable: “Solar energy has all this baggage,” he says. “Solar panels have been out there for 30 to 40 years, but most homeowners still believe panels are ‘complicated, expensive, not-for-me’ kinds of things.” Thus, even homeowners who lean toward green initiatives might still be reluctant to invest in having a contractor come out to their home to provide an estimate. Mapdwell cuts through the intimidation factor by providing this information with no fuss and no risk.

To date, Mapdwell has only evaluated solar potential in a couple of cities, but Fast Company’s Jessica Leber reports that Mapdwell is expanding, and also hopes to produce “similar information collection systems for rainwater collection, small wind energy installations, and green roofs.”

As we frequently say, awareness and information is the first step to change—and on that point (and 8,600 data points per pixel), Mapdwell delivers.

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Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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