A screenshot of solar-estimation tool Mapdwell's user interface.
Mapdwell A screenshot of solar-estimation tool Mapdwell's user interface.

Building owners in America's largest city can now gauge the energy-cost savings potential of adding photovoltaics (PVs) to their projects. Last week, Mapdwell rolled out in all five of New York City’s boroughs. The Web-based app launched in May 2013 out of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning and is now licensed to the eponymous Boston-based startup. It is already offered in Boston; Boulder, Colo.; Cambridge, Mass.; Washington County, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; Wellfleet, Mass.; and Lo Barnechea and Vitacura, both in Chile.

The New York version includes more than 1 million buildings that could generate more than 11 gigawatts of solar energy and deliver more than 13 million megawatt-hours annually, the company says. Mapdwell uses high-resolution, 3D satellite models and lighting detection and ranging data to determine how many kilowatt-hours of solar energy a building could generate as well as the cost to install the system versus its potential energy-cost savings. The tool considers factors such as the roof shape, shading from nearby trees and other buildings, local weather, and utility costs in the area. Users can pick a preset PV system and lay out or design their own configuration for analysis.

“Market conditions today include lowered hardware costs, tax credits, and incentive programs that make New York a really hot solar market,” Mapdwell CEO Eduardo Berlin, AIA, said in a press release.

Mapdwell isn’t alone. Last week Google entered the solar game. Its Web-based app Project Sunroof is available to building owners in Boston, Fresno, Calif., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Like Mapdwell, the site helps evaluate the cost ofadding solar panels to a building.

While Mapdwell and Project Sunroof each admit they are no substitute for an on-site evaluation, by taking on the nation's largest cities with an, accessible interface, the solar-estimation apps could become a go-to conceptual-design tool for architects.

This post has been updated from its original publication.