Stimulus at work: Berkeley's SolarMap

From Obama's signature to my laptop: A cool way to calculate the cost/benefit of solar for my very own home

Published November 6, 2009 6:15PM (EST)

 On Monday, the City of Berkeley announced it had received a $108,500 grant "for the purpose of spurring the adoption of solar installations" as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Berkeley plans to split the grant between two existing programs, "the SmartSolar and Berkeley Solar Map projects."

SmartSolar offers "free energy efficiency and solar advising to Berkeley property owners."

The Berkeley SolarMap is even neater -- a very cool application that takes advantage of the capabilities of Google Maps, and allows you to quickly calculate the cost of a solar system for your home. In just a few minutes, I inputted a years worth of PG&E data on my gas and electricity expenses into Berkeley SolarMap's online calculator, plugged in my address so that system could estimate my available roof square footage from satellite photos, and ended up with an estimate for how much a system would cost and how much I would save on electricity (and how many pounds of carbon dioxide I would no longer be responsible for emitting).

That was the fun part. The not so fun part was that Berkeley SolarMap estimated the total cost of a system that would pay for 100 percent of my electricity needs at $27,000. Ouch. Sure, after after 25 years I would net out at zero, but that's still a little bit too long a time frame for me at the moment. I'm going to have to wait until Berkeley's solar power system financing plan expands.

Even though I have not yet been spurred to take advantage of the program, I'm still happy that stimulus money is helping to pay the wages of people creating these programs and doing the solar power consulting. Those are tax dollars spent that I do not regret one whit.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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