Citywide Solar

A new tool demonstrates the collective power of urban rooftops

Walk at street level through the orderly grid of government buildings in Washington, D.C., and you feel like you’re hemmed in by giant boxes. But look down on it from above, and it looks like a perfect canvas for solar energy.

And that’s exactly what Eduardo Berlin wants you to see. Berlin is executive director of Mapdwell, a project that grew out of the MIT Sustainable Design Lab. Starting with the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, researchers used LiDAR data to generate a 3-D map of the rooftops and trees in the city. They combined those data with local solar radiation measurements and utility rate information to calculate solar panels’ energy potential and their payback period.

The idea is to shift our thinking about solar panels from the level of the individual to that of the community. A coordinated system can make better use of the sun’s rays than a scattered array of panels that aren’t necessarily located in the solar sweet spots.

So far, Mapdwell’s Solar System tool is available for the cities of Cambridge and Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.; there are plans to map Beaverton, Oregon, and Vitacura, Chile, on the outskirts of Santiago.

Image courtesy of Mapdwell

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