The solar energy sector has seen explosive growth over the last decade, allowing photovoltaic cells to become more efficient at capturing solar energy, and to be manufactured at lower costs. Due to the availability of affordable photovoltaic cells, energy planners have taken an interest in assessing the feasibility of widespread solar cell implementation. However, all areas do not have the same solar energy potential. Depending on the height of surrounding trees and buildings, and the slope and orientation of the surface, potential solar energy will differ with the characteristics of each area.
Airborne LiDAR data can be used to create high-resolution shadow maps, which are used to identify optimal locations for maximizing solar energy potential. Energy planners can then accurately calculate realistic solar energy inputs and compare them with energy demand and price forecasts. A practical application of LiDAR data has recently been developed by researchers at the University of British Columbia in the form of a solar calculator designed for homeowners to assess the cost/benefit of installing rooftop solar heated water systems.
Terra’s data can also be used in the development of large-scale solar energy farms, as airborne LiDAR can provide engineering ready data that is used in feasibility studies, front end engineering and design (FEED) phases, and construction phases. New solar energy farms also have to connect to the electrical grid through either new transmission lines, or by tapping into existing lines. Whether a new transmission line or an existing transmission line is used, accurate models are required to test the expected performance of the transmission line under various climatic and load conditions to ensure operational compliance requirements are met.