13 Mar 2017

Inspiration: From Hackathon to Data-driven Start-up


picodat

When looking at open data, it is not always easy to see how you can use it to create new services. So if you are looking for inspiration on how to use open data in a commercial start up, then you might want to look at Picodat. The Danish data-driven start-up turned their hackathon idea, called Sunmapper, into a successful business. Sunmapper helps homeowners decide whether to invest in solar panels, or not, in an easy and reliable way.

Investing in solar panels is a costly thing, and it can often be hard to determine if the investment is financially viable in the long run. Sunmapper is a web service that helps homeowners with this exact dilemma. It presents the user with an interactive map through which it is possible to locate any building Picodat has data on. When choosing a building, Sunmapper presents all relevant information needed to determine whether making an investment in solar panels is a sound option for this particular property. This includes exposure to the sun, the price of a solar panel installation, yearly savings, and the amount of years it takes for the energy savings to cover the expenditure of installing the panels, yearly CO2 reduction and more. The calculations even takes into account the different subsidies available for homeowners when installing solar panels.

In order to present users with this important information, the service uses open data to a wide extent. Sunmapper draws on key data sets including orthophoto, Digital Surface Model, Danish Address Data, and the Construction and Housing Register, which includes various information about the buildings in the country.

From a hackathon idea to a business startup, Sunmapper is now available in the municipality of Lyngby-Taarbæk near Copenhagen. In the first few weeks after Sunmapper was launched, more than 200 unique visitors (amounting to about 0.5% of the entire population of Lyngby-Taarbæk) had used it and Picodat is already planning to expand and offer Sunmapper in all of Denmark.

Civic engagement and bridging the gap

“In order for many municipalities to be able to achieve their ambitious goals of CO2 reduction, I believe civic engagement is necessary. Calculating the potential of solar panels is complex and the existing ways of retrieving the necessary information requires users to consider a number of technical aspects, like their roof pitch, solar panel efficiency and price development – information most homeowners don’t have.”

– Lars Bonde, Co-founder of Picodat.

Most municipalities in Denmark are ambitious about reducing the amount of CO2 produced in both households as well as municipal buildings. Lars Bonde sees Sunmapper as an important tool in order to reach these goals.

The business model of Picodat primarily relies on selling the service to municipalities, who in turn offer their citizens an easy way of exploring the solar panel potential of their households through Sunmapper.

This set-up breaches the gap between municipal goals and civic engagement, as Lars points out:
With Sunmapper we’re trying to show the potential of solar panels in the easiest way possible, in order to encourage home owners to reduce CO2 emissions as well as benefitting economically. By providing Sunmapper, municipalities can offer an extra service to their citizens and come closer to realizing their climate goals”.

Aarhus, London and Santander are all cities on the forefront of opening up the data collected in the cities, and hopefully reading this feature has inspired you to think of new ways to use open data. You can try out the Sunmapper service here (in Danish).


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