Five Cool Online Solar Tools

Being in the alternative energy and solar power business means being on the cutting edge.  If you’re not adapting, learning, and using every tool available you won’t last long.  So today I thought we’d cover some tools that are online, free, and might help make your job a little easier as a solar professional.


1.  PV Watts 3.0
If you’re not familiar with the original PV Watts versions, it was an online tool created by NREL that helped gauge solar production based on system specifications and location.  It was useful, but a little primitive.  The latest version of PV Watts is slick and easy to use, although its a little slower to load.  You can now look at a map of the US, find your city/region, enter system information, and get a monthly report of the system’s energy production.  The tool is in beta testing, which is a fancy way of say ‘It’s not done yet!’, but its handy and easy to use if you’re used to playing with online maps.

PV Watts lets you choose your location, but relies on you to enter accurate information about the orientation and angle of the system to determine production.  Roofray has a cool system that utilizes Google Maps to identify the exact location of the system to determine energy harvest.  You find the house or building in question, draw a rough square where the system could go, select orientation and angle on the map, and the system will calculate harvest.  You can include utility rate information to get the financials too.  This is a great tool when evaluating multiple sites and complicated roof angles.

Keeping track of solar and wind incentives is a full time job.  Its a good thing that the folks at the North Carolina Solar Center are doing just that with their database of rebates and incentives.  The database covers renewable and efficiency programs from states, municipalities, and utilities.  Plus it has links and contact information for getting in touch with the people in charge of the programs.

4.  Tariff Analysis Project
Solar tariffs are becoming more commonplace, so the Berkely LAb launched T.A.P. so people like us can find out about programs in our area.  You can enter as little information as you like and it will tell you about feed in tariff (FIT’s) programs in your area and give specifics on how they work.  This tool will become more and more vital as FIT’s become more prevalent in the US.

5.  Cooler Planet Tools
Cooler Planet takes the system financials and systems specs a couple steps further and will calculate Return on Investment, Breakeven, and account for incentives in the calculation.  It doesn’t go into the detail of system orientation but it does have a tool that will let you calculate your carbon emissions.  They also gave some other cool tools that allow you to see a map showing people in your area who used their solar calculators, an incentive map, and map of installations.

So what tools are you using?  What did I miss?

Kriss Bergethon is a solar professional who lives off the grid in Colorado.  For more information visit his site at Solar Lighting.

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Hello, I am an engineer and now design and sell solar power kits and systems. I actually got my start working for large mining companies and worked in coal mines for a time. After seeing the enormous environmental costs of carbon-based fuels firsthand, I decided to take a different path. I got involved with green construction and eventually found myself building my own green home. I now live off the grid with my wife in the mountains of Colorado.

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