Mapping the Solar Potential of Rooftops using GIS

Posted on April 13, 2010


To kick-off, I’m posting a research project I worked on while at Carnegie Mellon University in 2008. The idea was to develop a working prototype using Geographical Information System (GIS) as the main tool to map rooftop solar potential of buildings at an urban scale. The scope of the project was limited to public buildings and public parking lots and garages in the city of Pittsburgh, PA. The idea was developed during the Solar America Cities (SAC) – Pittsburgh discussions. SAC is a program developed by the Department of Energy (DOE).


My research thesis contributes to a solar energy planning system being developed for the city of Pittsburgh. It consists of a methodology and a prototype for planners and decision makers in relation to one of the key solar technologies: photovoltaics. Intended primarily to predict the solar potential for buildings and plots over an urban area, the research will support decisions regarding the solar radiation resource available on one particular public building or parking lot in Pittsburgh, the amount of electricity that can be generated for a certain PV system and technical configuration and so on. Based on a Geographical Information System (GIS), it is implemented to create solar radiation maps showing rooftop solar potential of city owned facilities as well as public parking lots in Pittsburgh. The prototype is focused on public properties since for the purposes of a demonstration project, a public property is a good place to start and would be a model for other city owned facilities to follow suit. It also sets a good example for residential photovoltaics to be installed. GIS and its tools is the central research tool in creating these maps. The final product is a GIS based user interface with each map containing all the information pertaining to solar insolation, prospective sites, energy consumption, generation and savings, along with recommendations for PV systems and technical configuration.

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Posted in: GIS, Solar