An Analysis of Interactive Solar Energy Web Maps for Urban Energy Sustainability
Keywords:web maps, urban planning, solar energy, content analysis, competitive analysis
Maps and geographic information systems (GIS) have become vital tools for decision-making, communication, and outreach in the domain of urban energy sustainability. One emerging example involves interactive online maps that allow users to assess rooftop solar energy potential on a building of interest. These maps are interesting in two ways: they are new forms of technology in and of themselves, and they have only become relevant with the changes in renewable energy technologies that allow individuals to participate in this new economy of energy production. The purpose of this study is to describe and analyze the cartographic representation and functionality of urban-scale solar energy maps in the United States. Using competitive analysis, we assess twelve interactive online maps to understand their: (1) design, (2) usage of visual variables and interaction operators, and (3) content, purpose, and goals. Across these three types of assessment, we find both a wide variety as well as some consistent themes. Our results also show that some maps followed cartographic conventions (Brewer 2016; Slocum et al. 2009) while others did not. Through our analysis we develop a set of best practices that can be used to improve the effectiveness and widen the functionality of online solar energy maps. In particular, we make recommendations on how to develop future online, interactive renewable energy maps in a way that keeps the end user in mind while communicating relevant information to a broader range of stakeholders involved in urban energy sustainability (homeowners, utility operators, city officials, and urban planners).
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