Cool Web Tool Makes it Easy to Plan Rooftop Solar in L.A. County

Looks like the WeHo Whole Foods could save about 90K a year by choosing locally-sourced solar power. Screen capture from the L.A. County Solar Map.

If you own a building in Los Angeles County and you're interested in rooftop solar, you now have almost no excuse not to take that interest past the idle wondering stage. With a recently improved -- and seriously awesome -- web tool provided by County and Energy Upgrade California, you can find out where the best places on your roof might be for solar panels, how much energy you can expect to produce there, and how much of a bite it might take to finance the system. All from the comfort of your couch.

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You can also use the tool to determine whether solar hot water might work for your place, and calculate the amount of money you'll save by installing either water or power on your rooftop. The map tool can also connect you with licensed contractors.

"The site provides a single source for information about solar electricity, hot water and energy efficiency projects, and personalized information about their property, including where panels would go and what their production and savings could be," says Howard Choy, manager of the L.A. County Office of Sustainability. "It also allows the public to access Energy Upgrade California in Los Angeles County through the Green Planning Tool, and connect with solar and energy project installers."

Browsing the map is an impressive experience -- if ever so slightly slow for those of you with machines more than two or three years old. Zoom in on your building and a matrix of color-coded dots appears to show you which parts of your roof have the best solar potential. (The redder, the better.) Zoom out just a little bit and you'll see how your potential annual savings stack up against those of your neighbors: each building is labeled with a little tag bearing a dollar amount. A Palmdale tract development chosen more or less at random shows potential annual savings running between $3,000 and $7,000; more for those houses with larger expanses of south-facing roof. In shadier Eagle Rock, those figures ran more in the $250-2,000 range. Developers combined more than 250 million pieces of data to make this map, including roof pitch and orientation, overhanging trees, neighboring buildings and local topography that influence a building's solar potential.

That's probably why it's a bit resource-intensive. But it's well worth checking out, even if you're not an L.A. County property owner. Close out your other browser windows, sign out of your Twitter client and email, and give it a try. This kind of tool is what the Internet was invented for.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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