Going solar in SoCal

May 8, 2009 

Los Angeles County has created an innovative, interactive “Solar Map” to help residents, business owners and public property managers quickly figure out how much money and energy they can save by switching to solar.

The new map covers more than 3,000 acres of territory, making it the largest of its kind in terms of geographic scope. Users simply enter their address and zip code, and the website automatically calculates how much electricity they can generate through roof-top solar panels, how much money they can save annually on utility bills and how much carbon dioxide emissions they can reduce every year.

Los Angeles County’s solar map also gives people fast access to a list of licensed installers so they can get cost estimates and information about tax incentives and rebates in their neighborhoods.

Existing incentives from utilities and the federal government offer up to a 62% discount for residential customers in the City of Los Angeles and up to 45% for Southern California Edison customers. With these incentives, the price of solar costs an average of between 10- and 15-cents per kilowatt hour—the amount of energy it takes to burn a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours. That’s comparable to the cost of electricity purchased from Southern California Edison and the Department of Water and Power. Going solar will also help create a hedge against ever-rising utility costs since the cost of sunshine never goes up.

Solar power contractors will also benefit from the map’s detailed aerial pictures. They’ll no longer need to climb roofs to determine whether solar will work on a particular building. The site develops its estimate of solar capacity by measuring the roof’s pitch, orientation, shadow effects and architectural or structural elements that could reduce usable area.

Over time, contractor reliance on this technology is expected to help lower installation costs for all residents.

The Solar Map website was created through a partnership between the county’s Internal Services Department, Chief Information Office, CH2M HILL, Southern California Edison and several local cities. It cost a relatively small $93,500 by taking advantage of the County’s existing aerial imagery and applying new computer technology to get the desired information.

By creating a one-stop website for people interested in taking advantage of southern California’s solar-friendly climate, the website’s designers, who modeled Los Angeles County’s solar map after similar projects in San Francisco and other cities, hope it will help facilitate the burgeoning green power industry here, thereby reducing utility costs, fighting global warming and creating new green jobs.

As Supervisor Yaroslavsky put it during an April press conference to unveil the map: “Solar makes sense in Los Angeles and in Southern California” since “this is one of the capitols of sunshine on the globe.”

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