SunCode Hackathon Provides a Glimpse of Our Solar Future

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SunCode Solar Hackathon. Image courtesy of Powerhouse.

Originally published by The Solar Foundation

A job in the solar industry doesn’t necessarily mean manufacturing panels or installing solar on a roof. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 found that the industry continues to exceed growth expectations, adding workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for 1.2 percent of all jobs created in the U.S. over the past year. The industry now employs nearly 209,000 solar workers, at a growth rate of 20.2 percent since November 2014.

With the growth and development of the industry comes a new type of solar career that will prove increasingly important in the years to come: Solar software developers. A glimpse of these solar jobs of the future could be seen at the Powerhouse SunCode Solar Hackathon, held in Oakland from May 13–14.

As an opportunity to “build a solar startup in 24 hours,” the Hackathon gave participants the chance to create a solar software prototype in a single day. Winners received a cash prize. (They also received an inflatable unicorn head, but we’re all aware that unlike unicorns, the benefits of solar energy are very real.)

This year’s Hackathon winner was SolarMaps, which is described as a “visual display for the value of solar on buildings, facilitating a solar marketplace.” The software allows the user to bring up a map of the yearly savings from solar at individual properties in their neighborhood. Users interested in going solar are able to connect with developers in their area. Using UtilityAPI software, they can verify their energy usage to get an accurate estimate for how much they can save, and developers are then allowed to bid on the property. Existing solar customers can share their savings and refer more people to developers.

“SolarMaps will try to bring the solar sales process into the 21st century,” says team member Mark Bachman. “We want to remove much of the uncertainty that homeowners have in going solar and connect them with the best developers in their area, creating more value and a better experience for both customers and developers.”

The second-prize team was Ebits, an online trading program allowing participants to buy and trade future Kilowatt hours that are added or deducted from their utility bills. “We believe that a platform like Ebits is the future for effective and flexible energy distribution,” says team member Javier Ruiz.

Third place went to SunScore, which creates a credit metric score for community solar subscribers to facilitate project financing. “It’s easiest to explain from the point of view of a bank,” says team member Michael Guia. “When consumers ask for a loan, how do you evaluate the risk? We help facilitate a better understanding of loan applicants, specifically low-income renters who are interested in going solar.”

As the solar industry expands and software continues to develop, SunCode provides a glimpse of the ideas and talent we’ll see in the future.

“I think we have all been really impressed by the Powerhouse community,” says Bachman of SolarMaps. “There is so much passion and intelligence in one space. It’s a really great asset for the Bay Area, and we’re looking forward to staying involved and connecting with more clean technology entrepreneurs and thinkers.”

The Solar Foundation will continue to track the growth and diversity of the solar workforce, and the emerging importance of solar software adds one more career path to the diverse number of opportunities available.

Below, check out this 3-minute video that captures the solar magic at SunCode.