Google Tool Offers Look at City Emissions, Solar Power Potential

In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, a rooftop is covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, in New York.

In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, a rooftop is covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)


Connecting state and local government leaders

The company's Environmental Insights Explorer features only five localities for now, but there are plans to expand it to thousands.

Google is in the process of rolling out a map-based data tool that lets users assess variables like carbon emissions and rooftop solar power potential for individual cities.

The company released a "beta" version of its Environmental Insights Explorer last month. For now it features five cities, including two in the U.S.—Mountain View, California and Pittsburgh. The project is designed to make it easier for people to access and use climate-related datasets that could prove useful for local government planning.

Google says it intends to eventually expand the tool to provide data for thousands of cities and towns around the world.

The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, an international alliance of city leaders and others focused on addressing climate change, last week announced it is partnering with Google and Bloomberg Philanthropies on an initiative that will incorporate the Environmental Insights Explorer platform.

Cities could make a sizable dent in reducing carbon emissions over the coming decades, the group says. 

But they note that it can be difficult for some local governments to undertake a greenhouse gas "emission inventory," an early step toward coming up with plans to cut emissions. The group says that the inventories can cost $250,000 to $700,000, and can take two years to complete. Less than 20 percent of the roughly 9,000 cities that have committed to meeting goals outlined in the landmark Paris climate accord have an adequate emission inventory, according to Google.

"The EIE tool will eliminate that roadblock," the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy said in a statement, "effectively allowing local governments to instantly and freely access the data they need to develop city greenhouse gas emissions inventories."

An image of Pittsburgh in the Environmental Insights Explorer. (Google)

Currently, the tool offers free data for four main categories: building emissions, transportation emissions, rooftop solar potential, and 20-year climate projections for temperature, precipitation and cold days.

It's possible to adjust various values in the tool, like the number of kilometers travelled in a city by cars, buses, or bicycles, to see estimates of how those changes would effect emissions.

Data available for Pittsburgh, based on building information from last July, shows the city is using less than 1 percent of its rooftop solar power potential and that this untapped energy could curb emissions in the city by an amount equal to taking 199,000 cars off the road for a year, or growing about 24 million tree seedlings for a decade.

Mayors in some U.S. cities have been especially vocal and active on climate issues since President Trump took office.

Trump last year announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, a pact signed by about 200 countries that provided a framework for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The White House has also taken action to loosen standards for power plant emissions and vehicle fuel efficiency.

The Environmental Insights Explorer can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: Insurance Companies Balk at Florida’s Health Care Cost Transparency Website