Cambridge Solar Tool


One challenge facing the solar power industry is how to deliver accurate feasibility information to thousands of building owners that might want to install modules on their rooftops. Sending technicians to each individual property is expensive and time consuming. Cities and other large groups have tried to address this issue by organizing volume purchasing (ie Solarize Portland) to help spread the feasibility study cost and negotiate a lower purchase price for solar modules.

Another approach is to automate the calculation and delivery of basic feasibility study information, so that property owners know what to expect before calling a solar installer. This has now been done for the an entire city thanks to a collaboration between the City of Cambridge, the MIT Sustainable Development Lab and MoDe Studio.

“With a click, the Cambridge Solar Tool shows Cambridge residents, businesses, and property owners how much electricity can be produced on their rooftops from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, how the financial investment will pay off, and how much pollution will be reduced.”

High resolution Lidar data was used to create a 3d model of the city and calculate roof areas, slope, and overall suitability for a solar installation. What really makes this tool shine is a simple, visually appealing Google Maps based user interface. Another nice touch is comparing the ROI of a solar installation with other common investments such as stocks or government bonds. This approach is very scalable to other areas of the country, and seems likely produce better informed and more enthusiastic customers for solar installers. Check it out!


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio