Update | Desperately Seeking Solar

Cooler Planet’s Cool Map

{See update (9/29/09) at bottom of this article…}

When I first became serious about “going solar” one of the first calls I made was to the Web-based CoolerPlanet. Why them? Meh…because I saw a link to their site somewhere on the Web. Now, it turns out that my call has been reborn as a red pixel on the map above, providing a timescale view associated with interest in solar power across the country.

Panic Phone

I say “associated with” because the data used for the map are 30,000 phone calls made to a single, recently-started business. While the information is not a perfect metric, the map is a valuable tool for understanding the growth of residential solar power over the last two-and-a-half years.

You can use the slider near the upper right-hand corner to make the “heat map” display the number of calls at a specific date. Well, close to a date — the timescale divides the years into fiscal quarters. Or, you can click the small box labeled “Time Lapse” and watch the colored pixels spread and grow.

Very Solar House

Very Solar House

Living in central Phoenix, AZ, of course I zoomed in there first. Looking at the penultimate level, it was fascinating to move the slider from the 4th quarter of 2008 to the 1st quarter of 2009. In that short period central Phoenix went from a calm turquoise with a yellowish center, to a red-hot blob surrounded by yellow — clearly showing a large uptick in calls.

It would be interesting to do a mashup of this map combined with one based on other factors — such as different state incentive packages — to see what associations could be found.

Since we’re using their map, a few words about Cooler Planet are in order. It is a business that caters to both sides of the equation: people looking for reputable solar installers, and solar installers looking for motivated buyers. There’s no fee for the homeowners, but businesses pay Cooler Planet a fee based on the number of referrals they get.

This led me to ask Tom Staples — the founder and president of Cooler Planet — what kind of screening process is used to ensure that calls don’t get routed to solar scammers. (Yes, it’s true: not every business with the words “green” or “renewable” or “solar” in its name is reputable. Caveat Viridans Emptor.)

Here’s his reply:

We verify the contractor license of each solar provider we feature in the directory with their state before they can be listed, but we also do verification with actual customers. We ask contractors to submit customer evaluation surveys to clients they’ve worked with in the past, and we follow up with each client we refer along to each respective contractor, to develop a rating system based on customer experience. Over time, the contractor score helps determine placement on the site and which companies receive the most referrals.

We sent Staples another question about combining data from the Cooler Planet map with information that might have an effect on solar inquiries. We’ll let you know when we hear back. In the meantime, enjoy the map.

I heard back from Tom Staples about the possible mash-up. That may be forthcoming, but even without it, Cooler Planet is working up a presentation of more data in some form. Also in the works, a map “featuring a real time stream of users using our calculator tool from around the country.” Cool. He’ll keep us posted and we’ll keep you posted.

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