The Mapdwell Project: Determining Optimal Solar Power on Rooftops

Screen Shot of Mapdwell Solar System Platform

The Mapdwell Project is a collaborative effort of researchers, academics, and professionals from MIT from a range of fields – design, building technology, engineering, environmental sciences, finance, and computer sciences – to develop a community resource of research-driven and tested information of sustainable practices.  The Sustainable Design Lab at MIT collaborated with design studio MoDE (Modern Development Studio), which designed the online viewer.  The fundamental goal of Mapdwell is to deliver a tool that enables communities to make informed decisions about how to incorporate sustainable practices into their lifestyles through community awareness, and access to information about energy efficiency and smart development.

More details on this tool after the break.

Screen Shot of Mapdwell Solar System Platform

In early May, Mapdwell unveiled its first prototype of “Solar System” – an urban mapping and informatics platform, on mapdwell.com.  The value of Mapdwell Solar System is the amount of data stored in this resource, accessible through its user-friendly design.  Solar System produces the information necessary to install PV panels, providing information on system size in kW, while also providing the comparison to the environmental effects. It enables citizens to determine slope, shape, and orientation of building rooftops; simulate of solar irradiation taking into account historical weather data; consider physical obstructions like vegetation and surrounding buildings; compute potential solar power generation; apply national, state, and local utility rates and incentive programs; and deliver accurate and unbiased information.  Citizens can access this information for any building within a city allowing communities to make informed decision on sustainable development.

While Mapdwell insists that owners perform an on-site assessment of their buildings’ characteristics to determine the best PV placement and array, Solar System is determined to fall within 4 to 10 percent real world estimates.  To create the map, Mapdwell combined aerial photos of the area with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to create a topographic mapping.  This determines roof angles and physical obstructions that would affect the intensity of the sun on a particular area.

Screen Shot of Mapdwell Solar System Platform

The prototype only maps Cambridge, Massachusetts over the familiar Google Interactive Map.  Clicking and zooming in on any building reveals a pixelated patterning of PV panel placement on the roof, using a gradient of yellow to red to show the most optimal placement.  A slider allows the user to adjust the size of the system, and Solar System automatically arranges the panel placement to optimize the new selection.  A slew of data is presented with each selection: system size in kW, payback period, carbon offset counted in trees, cost to owner, yearly revenue, tax credits, investment data and rate of return.  Building owners can upload their own projects into the system, providing a community sharing of the city’s progress.  The platform allows users to build, customize and edit a panel array that works best for their building.

Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "The Mapdwell Project: Determining Optimal Solar Power on Rooftops" 03 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=381813>
  • Susan

    Interesting article, I actually found a brilliant way to build your own solar panels saving thousands! All the details are here if anybody is interested: wowitworked.com/solar-energy-panels-you-can-build-yourself/

    • phariba

      a big thanks dear susan

  • Nicolas Waissbluth

    Great article! We’re solarizing the world one community at a time. Follow @mapdwell!

  • Patrick H

    This is great, I hope they roll it out to more cities.