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Mapping the Potential for Solar Power On Every Roof

Nearly every square meter of rooftop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has now been evaluated for its suitability to host solar panels.
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MIT Sustainable Design Lab/MoDe Studio

Within the borders of Cambridge, Massachusetts, are 17,000 rooftops, or 17,000 individual surfaces on which it might make sense one day to install photovoltaic cells. Of course, these roofs are not all equally fit for solar power. Some of them have weird chimneys or sloping architecture or tree shade. Some buildings are oriented in the wrong direction (for the sun’s purposes, at least), or they’re boxed in by even taller structures that block out natural daylight.

From the sun’s point of view, all of this means that Cambridge looks about like the aerial image above. The gold dots are the solar sweet spots, the brown ones are more or less untouchable. The image comes from a new mapping tool built by MIT’s Sustainable Design Lab and the Boston design firm Modern Development Studio. They’ve mashed together some pretty remarkable datasets about Cambridge to model the solar potential of just about every square meter of rooftop space in the city (literally, each of those dots represents one square meter). And the model they’ve developed could potentially give us the same information about every surface on the planet.