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Solar Energy – What’s Emerging in the San Francisco Bay Area

Avatar for Dave Llorens
Published on 04/03/2008 in
Updated 04/03/2008
sf solar map

1. SF.solarmap.org is getting a makeover. The solar map is a Google map mashup of San Francisco where you can see who has installed solar in SF, and also see how much solar energy your particular roof can hold, as well as how the numbers work out for solar, financially. The software is a partnership between the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the magnificently huge company CH2MHILL (I can never remember the name I have to look it up every time. I always call it C3P0).

SF.solarmap’s mathematical analysis of rooftops’ (or rooftop ability) to hold solar energy has been pretty dubious in the past, but CH2MHILL has recently beefed it up with some serious image recognition software, and I have heard from Johanna Partin that the data she manually checked versus this new software is looking incredibly accurate. They use GIS (higher resolution satellite photos) data provided by (I think) DTIS coupled with publicly available real estate info to crunch the numbers for what you can do on your house, solar-wise.

Coming soon: Biking map, biodiesel map, wind energy resource map, and a partnership with Clean Power Estimator

eco geek

2. Meanwhile Dr. Barry Levine and his class of super smart eco-geeks at San Francisco State University are working on something along a very similar path, but for the city of Oakland. I’ll be writing a much more extensive article about this solar energy open source project in the coming weeks when their website goes live. Bottom line – they take the same type of GIS data and have an intern trace the roof – then they perform some optical recognition software on it and run it through Clean Power Estimator. If solar works on your home, bam! You get an automatically sent postcard with all the numbers worked out for you. Scott Wentworth with the city of Oakland is the Project Originator.

cal bears solar

3. Berkeley Solar ProgramBerkeley has proposed something called the Sustainable Energy Financing District that allows Berkeley property owners to finance solar energy systems using a 20-year assessment to their property tax bill. My friends Doug and Jon are writing BerkeleySolarProgram.com to follow the pending program and to try and help combine it with some solar energy community purchasing.

Jake McGoldrick

4. San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission has a NEW LOCAL INCENTIVE for solar energy, providing $3000-$10000 cash subsidies to install solar energy for any property owner in San Francisco…. or at least, it will, once the rigmarole with supervisor McGoldrick is over. I created www.sfsolarsubsidy.com to track this San Francisco solar incentive program and all its merits and hang-ups. Despite the lock on the funding that essentially cripples all sales of solar energy in SF (like every customer isn’t saying “let’s see how this pans out”), I am confident the pilot program will be accepting applications relatively soon. Please visit sfsolarsubsidy.com for information on the catastrophe that is currently going on right now and how to contact your supervisor to yell about it. It’s causing solar businesses left and right to freeze here, and some withdrawing huge projects.

Money for Solar

5. Straight Cash the Federal Government! – The Solar America Cities grant by the DOE provided $2.5 Mil for 13 cities. San Francisco was selected. Johanna Partin and the SFDOE have planned some use of the money, among them: a “train the trainers” class offered at the PGE energy center in San Francisco (if you haven’t checked this place out, do it, it’s great). This class will train neighborhood leaders in the fundamentals of solar energy to relay at neighborhood meeting


In Summary, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, all have exciting solar energy policies, incentives, and programs coming out and when the pressure on energy prices hits us harder than it is right now, the Bay Area may be the only place in the US that’s ready. Let’s all make sure that’s the case!


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Last modified: April 3, 2008

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