Google's Project Sunroof Now Available in Miami, Teases City's Solar Power Potential

In August, Florida voters will decide on a proposed amendment that would provide property tax cuts for anyone who wants to buy solar panels or other renewable energy equipment. If passed, it could lead to a lot of Floridians looking into installing solar panels on their roofs.

Tax breaks, however, wouldn't be the only savings. Solar energy is cheaper than traditional energy sources in the long run. 

In fact, Google has unleashed a new tool in Florida that gives homeowners an estimate of how much they could save over 20 years. 
Dubbed Project Sunroof, the tool first uses 3D modeling data from Google Earth to estimate how many panels could fit onto your roof. It then uses day-to-day analyses of weather patterns to estimate how many hours of useable sunlight there are per year. Finally, it estimates that sweet, sweet dollar amount. Turns out my landlord could save $9,000 over the next 20 years by installing solar panels — and that doesn't even include the possible tax breaks. (Try your home here.)

Gloria Estefan could save about $9,000 if she outfitted her Star Island home as well. (Please do not "solar energy stalk" celebrities; we're just using her as an example.)You can then fine-tune the estimate by plugging in your current monthly energy bill. The tool also gives you an estimate of how much you would need to shell out to install the panels. It would also give you financing data on how much it would cost to lease solar panels, but that practice is currently outlawed in Florida (more on that in a bit). It does, however, offer links to local solar panel providers.

Project Sunroof was rolled out last year by Google but originally only serviced Boston, San Francisco, and Fresno, California. This week the tech company announced that the tool was expanded into more areas, including throughout all of Florida. (It's worth noting that Google has invested in a solar energy company.)

Ironically, however, the Sunshine State doesn't have many policies that promote the use of solar energy. The existing power companies in the state, including FPL, have fought tooth and nail to dissuade the expansion of solar-friendly laws in the state. Currently, people can only buy and use solar panels for personal use. More solar-friendly states allow companies to lease out panels. In some instances, panel owners can sell excess energy back to power companies. 

In fact, Florida law doesn't even allow a commercial building to install solar panels and then sell the energy to tenants. Which is a shame, because look how much roof space Aventura Mall has, for example.It's important to keep in mind that the ballot amendment that would provide tax breaks for solar panel owners is on the August 30 state primary ballot. It's enumerated as Amendment 4. 

When you head to the polls in November for the general election, you'll be greeted by another solar power amendment. It seems relatively innocuous. Amendment 1, however, only enshrines Florida's current solar energy policy into the constitution, making future innovation harder. A wide range of groups, including solar advocates and even Tea Party activists with free-market principals, are opposed to the amendment. 

Google's Project Sunroof not only illustrates how much potential there is in solar power, but how far Florida's existing laws lag behind. 
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Kyle Munzenrieder