Residents of Jefferson County will be the first in the world to have access to a new system which provides an instant evaluation of the potential of conversion to solar power for businesses and homeowners.
Martinsburg-based the Geostellar company held an event last week to roll out their new website which allows those interested in examining conversion to solar energy to quickly evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of such a move.
“We’re launching, for the first time, a system where any property owner can type in their address and get an instant, free and independent analysis of their solar potential,” said CEO David Levine. “It’s the first of its kind in the world.”
All of Geostellar’s services are provided free of charge to users of the system. The company hopes to generate profit by charging referral fees to solar installers.
While the company plans to provide coverage of 80 percent of the national solar market by March, for the next month only Jefferson County homeowners and businesses will have access to the system.
“Our secret sauce is a full 3D model of the major metropolitan areas of the United States, and we started with Jefferson County for all of our testing,” Levine said, adding that Jefferson County was chosen as the initial site for the rollout because most Geostellar employees reside in the county and because the company was helped by Todd Fagan of the Jefferson County Geographic Information Systems department.
“He got us a technology from the USDA called LIDAR – Light Detection and Ranging – where they send these lasers from planes over (the county),” Levine said. “Using that we developed a full 3D model of the county. We move the sun through the sky every minute of the day and get all the shadows – the slope and orientation of every rooftop – so we know how much energy would be produced by panels there. Once we know how much energy would be produced, we can add on what your local utility rates are, which tells us the value of the energy.”
Users simply create an account at the site and enter their address. The system then automatically calculates how much power can be generated, how much money can be saved, and how much carbon pollution can be prevented based on the 3D model together with data on weather patterns, utility rates, local power sources and other factors. The monetary and carbon savings are then prominently displayed to users.
“We also plug in local incentives, and there are some very interesting incentives like the alternative fuels infrastructure tax credit, which can get you up to $10,000 of your home solar panels if you are in the Eastern Panhandle,” Levine said.
Levine also argues that Geostellar’s system will be a boon for solar installers because it automates the complex process of evaluating the solar productivity of a given rooftop.
“It takes us one day to do a whole county, whereas it takes a solar installer four hours to do one rooftop,” Levine said.
After receiving their initial evaluation, users of Geostellar’s system who are interested in examining the possibility of switching to solar can speak – on the phone or in person – with a personal advisor who will help them to choose the type of solar panel that will best fit their needs and the financing options available to make the system affordable.
Levine says that, for many, a solar system is an excellent investment that provides immediate returns. While the upfront costs can be high – tens of thousands of dollars for a residential system – the falling price of solar panels together with financing options can make the systems available to many middle class customers.
The cost savings on monthly power bills can often be greater than the monthly payments on a home equity loan taken to pay for the system, Levine said, which means that solar users can see a return on their investment on day one. Once the loan has been repaid, significant value has been added to a customer’s home or business, he said.
There are limitations on the customer base, however.
“You do probably need to have good credit, but I would say anyone with a credit score of 650 or above could probably get free solar,” Levine said.
While Levine emphasizes the financial aspects of solar power, he says his company is also deeply committed to reducing carbon emissions, which scientific consensus holds is a major cause of global warming.
“Every solar panel means fewer mountains removed,” Levine said. “People who are environmentally conscious are probably going to come to the site first, but pretty soon it is going to be anybody with business sense.”
Levine said Geostellar is currently hiring computer programmers and sales and marketing representatives, and hopes to hire many from the “best and brightest of the Eastern Panhandle.”
The company’s website is www.geostellar.com.