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To Go Green, Get Online

by DonKnapp

LA County Solar Map

Local governments long eager to more effectively get their residents involved in climate and sustainability initiatives are turning to advanced internet technology in droves. San Francisco and Los Angeles County both used Earth Day to announce online tools to monitor carbon footprints and gauge solar power potential.

San Francisco today offered a sneak-peek at their first-of-its-kind carbon footprint map, the UrbanEcoMap, that lets people track their personal carbon footprint and gauge how their neighborhood compares to others. Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Department of Environment, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "The holy grail of the intersection between the Web and the environment is to get real data that people can use to make decisions.”

He also made an important point, that this tool won’t just benefit individuals. City officials have already noticed trends emerging on that make that will likely inform policy decisions in the future.

It's not just individuals who can take advantage of the Web site, Blumenfeld said. City officials are already fascinated by some of the trends they've seen on the ecomap and will likely use the information there to effect policy change.

San Francisco is the first city in the world to utilize this technology, but Amsterdam and Seoul are already next in line. 

You can check out the map preview at

Further south down the California coast, Los Angeles County is making its own strides on the technology frontier. Officially unveiled today at LA County’s National Conversation on Climate Action, the LA County Solar Map puts residents and businesses a click away from assessing their solar power potential, saving time and money.

By typing in an address, a person will learn the property’s roof size, area suitable for solar panels, electricity produced, electricity savings, carbon reduction, nearby solar installations and case studies, available rebates from utility companies, and information about installers. It is the largest solar map in terms of geographic area in the world, covering 3,000 square miles, according to Acting Chief Information Officer Richard Sanchez, whose department developed the site in conjunction with the Internal Services Department. 

As County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the Daily News, "This is very important because we want everybody in the green economy, and we want no one left behind. Many times we think about the solar issue as being very expensive. Well, our objective here is to make it more inexpensive and accessible." While LA County’s map is impressive by any standard, it’s not alone.

First, a bit of history on these maps straight from ICLEI’s own Dave Konkle, currently director of ICLEI’s Energy Office Initiative but formerly of the same title in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In his words:

“At the first Solar America Cities Conference held in April, 2008, in Tucson, Arizona, the City of Ann Arbor and the City of San Francisco were invited by the Department of Energy to partner on a presentation on our innovative solar roof mapping programs.  We were the two leading cities in the country.

“The City of Ann Arbor hired college interns and used existing aerial photographs and GIS mapping layers to develop a manual system to analyze the roofs of 25,000 Ann Arbor residents.  Three interns worked full time over the summer of 2007 on a work-study grant to generate data. A new tab is now available to all Ann Arbor homeowners on their property information page on the city's website.  Along with voting information, garbage pick-up days and other data assigned to that address there is a tab for Solar Energy Potential. The total cost to Ann Arbor was under $30,000 as has been a model well received by smaller cities.”

Other cities with cutting-edge solar mapping technology include:

This Earth Day, let the sun shine!

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