Google launched Project Sunroof today, a new website that allows homeowners to receive an estimate of how much they could save by switching to solar for their home’s energy needs. We’re glad to see such an industry titan join the solar tech revolution, though admittedly this is a feature we added to our platform nearly two years ago.
Google’s Project Sunroof is interesting in that it builds upon its own wealth of aerial images and mapping data, and also offers a fun user interface. The downsides of the tool are its limited coverage, and ultimately its inability to deliver a useful solar shopping experience to homeowners. In terms of coverage, the tool only works for residents living in or near San Francisco, Fresno and Boston — assisting a small fraction of U.S. homeowners. The second, more noteworthy shortcoming is Project Sunroof’s inability to facilitate a useful comparison-shopping experience for solar shoppers. Because Google lacks a solar marketplace full of real-time pricing data, it’s unclear where their installation price estimates actually come from. Moreover, while the tool suggests several installers that could be contacted to take on the installation project (screenshot below), it provides homeowners with virtually no information about that installer’s brand, track record, or quality. Analogous to paying for a spot atop Google’s search engine, solar installers simply pay Google to participate in Project Sunroof (notice the word “Sponsored” in the upper right). Lastly, Project Sunroof unfortunately offers no solution for the most challenging aspect of going solar — how to compare and contrast multiple installation quotes from solar installers at once.
Google hopes to make Project Sunroof available to more Americans soon. But for those who want to take advantage of the soon expiring 30% tax credit offered by the federal government, there are other tools that cover more of the country and provide a better value to solar shoppers. EnergySage’s instant estimator tool provides a fuller picture for how much homeowners can save with solar across the entire country, as does the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts Calculator. Moreover, for solar shoppers looking for online comparison-shopping and resultant cost savings, EnergySage’s online solar marketplace is superior to Project Sunroof’s simple lead generation business. Nonetheless, we applaud Google for showing up to the solar shopping party!