Over the past three years, the Solar Market Pathways project, a U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office initiative, has supported 14 innovative solar projects around the country with the goal of increasing solar energy adoption by reducing the soft costs associated with solar.
These projects have generated an abundance of new online tools and how-to guides to help customers, developers, local governments, universities, and other stakeholders study and make decisions about solar energy.
The goals, progress, and resources from each of the 14 projects can be found on the Solar Market Pathways website. Here are some of the best online tools and guides. All are free to use.
Solar Finance Simulator
Midwest Renewable Energy AssociationThe Solar Finance Simulator is an online tool for universities, hospitals, municipalities, nonprofits, and businesses to simulate long-term financial forecasting for four types of solar investments: financial projections for direct ownership, power purchase agreements (PPA), debt financing, and operating leases. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association offers online and in-person training on this tool and others.
City and County of San Francisco
Faced with the ever present threat of an earthquake and other natural disasters, the City and County of San Francisco has developed a plan to deploy solar+storage systems on critical facilities. To assess sites, they developed SolarResilient, a tool that estimates technical specifications for solar and battery systems. The online tool allows building owners and city departments to do an initial screen on buildings, developing a portfolio of options before embarking on more detailed studies. It allows users to develop a quick and low-cost way to create a holistic energy security strategy for a city or county.
Community Solar Business Case Tool
Cook County Department of Environmental Control
The Community Solar Business Case Tool is a flexible financial model that uses the panel purchase or panel lease price as a basis for project economics. It calculates costs, performance, and benefits, and provides a basic “breakeven” price for purchased or leased systems from the perspective of both the customer and the system developer. Users can change all key inputs to tailor the analysis to their situation.
Local Potential Maps and Calculators:
New York Solar Map
City University of New YorkThe City University of New York’s Sustainable CUNY program has developed a dashboard showing statistics on the growth of solar in New York State, with county and city-level maps, charts, and more interactive features. The map has a growing number of layers, showing solar deployment, costs, utility data, permitting regulations, and the location of battery storage systems in New York City.
In the chilly Duluth, Minnesota, Local nonprofit Ecolibrium3 has worked with the City of Duluth, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Center for Spatial Analysis, and the National Renewable Energy Lab to develop an online tool that shows whether a roof has good solar exposure doing an initial estimate to design a rooftop system, quickly and at no cost.
Decision Tools and How-To Guides:
Toolkits for multi-family housing
Center for Sustainable Energy
Apartment and condo dwellers are often blocked from going solar because they don’t have direct access to solar panels on the roof. California is one of few states to offer a virtual net energy metering (VNEM) tariff to credit energy output from one solar system to tenants in a building. Initially just for low-income buildings, the VNEM tariff was expanded to all multi-tenant and multi-meter residential, commercial, and industrial properties in 2011.
But only a few of California’s three million apartment buildings have taken advantage of the tariff, due to a lack of awareness combined with some implementation difficulties.
To help jump-start this market, the Center for Sustainable Energy has developed a set of Virtual Net Metering Toolkits.