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PV Mapping Project Gathering Data, Evolving

January 6, 2010

The Open PV Mapping Project is "starting to gain steam among PV installers", says Chris Helm, project lead and Scientist II - GIS in NREL's Market Analysis group.  The Web-based project is a collaborative effort between government, industry, and the public that is compiling a database of photovoltaic (PV) installations in the United States. The data will help users understand historical and current trends in the PV market.

Users may add their own PV installation data, browse data entered by others, and view statistics. NREL will also add more data and use this information to drive further analysis of market growth.

Helm and his NREL Market Analysis team "seeded" the database by requesting information from state-run incentive programs, large utilities, and other organizations. This initial data collection provided a solid base from which to launch the project. As the PV community and others contribute information, the database will grow.

The quality of the data depends on who is submitting it; data from certain organizations may be more trustworthy than data from unknown or public users.  However, all data is validated periodically, and duplicate entries for the same project will help verify trust in that project's data.

Currently, the database holds records of nearly 60,000 PV installations totaling more than 670 megawatts of installed capacity, with an average cost per Watt at around $8.88. 

While the installation numbers are still somewhat low, Helm says, "The trends that we're starting to identify are beginning to look as we expected. In a way, I am surprised with how rapidly the numbers have changed since the project launched two months ago. This, I believe, is due to the fact that the project is just starting to gain steam among PV installers, who will hopefully become the major contributors."

Helm says that one challenge is an inability to provide an interface to search individual systems, one at a time. The site's Market Mapper provides aggregate-level (i.e., nation, state, and county) statistics, but struggles at the street- and individual-system levels. So Helm and his team are working on a solution that will allow users to hone in on a specific region and sift through individual PV installations.

Originally, the effort had a more modest goal-Helm's team was tasked with collecting data, building a spreadsheet, and generating a few graphs. But then, Helm says, "We realized that we could turn this project into a more powerful voice for the PV industry and provide a place where the general public could come see what's happening around country."

—Karen Atkison