Solar panels on home rooftops are certainly a more common site than they were just a few years ago, thanks to steadily dropping installation prices, government grants (though these are being cut back) and a growing realisation that they can make a difference to a home energy bill. In fact, the Guardian reported recently that homes and businesses gained more power from solar than coal for the first time over a 24-hour period this April.

But there’s still a long way to go, and now it looks like Google is putting its weight behind the issue with Project Sunroof.

The idea is to help people get over the initial hassle of installing solar panels on their roofs by answering some basic questions, such as how many panels you might need and how much money you’re likely to save off your electricity bill. It can even tell you if your house gets enough sun to make solar panels worthwhile.

It does this by using the information that’s already available in Google Maps to create a sort of treasure map of solar energy around the globe. It goes pretty deep into the data, calculating the effect of shadows caused by high buildings and trees, even the angle of your roof, as well as extrapolating historical weather and temperature patterns to calculate just how much sunlight your roof is likely to get during any given year. So it can show you approximately how much solar energy your roof could be expected to generate, and how much you could expect to save.

It’s already up and running in a few select areas although there’s no data yet on just how accurate the information is. A journalist in San Francisco checked out their roof using the tool and discovered they could be knocking around $700 dollars off their electricity bill – just the kind of information a potential customer might need to take the plunge.

It’s not available in the UK yet. In fact, the project has started on a fairly small scale in the US, focusing on Boston (where the project is based), the San Francisco Bay Area (where Google is based), and Fresno, California (where one of the developer’s mum lives). From there, the project is expected to expand across the US and eventually to the rest of the world if it proves successful, though it’s not yet clear how long Google expects that to take.

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