Say what you like about Google and its dastardly plans to rule the Earth, but the company's geeks do keep coming up with some amazing products and services. The latest such goes under the codename Project Sunroof, which identifies the suitability for solar panels for 60 million buildings in the United States.
The project, which has been ongoing for about 2 years now, has finally covered all 50 states. It uses imagery from Google Maps and Google Earth, 3D modeling and machine learning to create an interactive solar map of the whole country - state by state, town by town, and building by building - to calculate the amount of sunlight received by each section of roof throughout the year, taking into account weather patterns, the position of the sun in the sky at different times of the year, and potential shade from obstructions like trees and nearby tall buildings, in order to make an assessment of whether each building would be a suitable candidate for solar panels.
The project concludes that 79% of all rooftops analyzed are technically viable for solar power (in that they have enough unshaded area for solar panels), with over 90% viability for open, sunny states like Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Even the more forested, northern states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Maine reach over 60% viability. The single city with the most solar potential is Houston, Texas, followed by Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio, New York and San Diego.
As a corporation, Google has always been proactive on renewable power, particularly solar, and has a stated goal of running all of its global operations solely on renewable energy. They may have intruded themselves into the very fabric of our lives, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree, but sometimes I think that I'd rather trust Google to run the world than many a government I can think of.