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Open Access Open Badges Original article

Community-scale assessment of rooftop-mounted solar energy potential with meteorological, atlas, and GIS data: a case study of Guelph, Ontario (Canada)

Joseph H McIntyre

Author Affiliations

School of Engineering, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada

Energy, Sustainability and Society 2012, 2:23  doi:10.1186/2192-0567-2-23

Published: 27 November 2012



Forward-thinking governments recognize that local renewable resource use is crucial to the resilience of communities and are developing and implementing community energy plans (CEPs). Guelph, Ontario, (Canada) included solar energy in its CEP, but the question of resource potential remained. The primary goal of this work was the assessment of Guelph’s solar energy potential with arrays of grid-tied, rooftop-mounted photovoltaic (PV) and hot-water (HW) panels.


This work relies on atlas and meteorological data with insolation modeling to evaluate the solar resource and incorporates geographic information system data for rooftop area quantification. The assessment applies the performance characteristics of commercially available PV and HW panels and systems to estimate the upper-limit potential for electricity and hot-water production.


The modeling results closely matched the values provided by two solar resource atlases for multiple orientations and time periods. Extensive modeling led to the development of sunflower diagrams, radial plots representing the variation of insolation on planar surfaces with orientation and inclination. The optimum orientation for annual beam and sky-diffuse insolation occurred at 18° east of south with a slope of 30°. Deviation from the optimum by 15° resulted in losses of less than 5%.


Assuming horizontal rooftops, Guelph could provide 1,496 GWh of electricity or 5,360 GWh[e] of heat, over 90% or twice the respective demands for 2005. Including the variation of rooftop orientation and inclination, Guelph could achieve 2,950 GWh of electricity or 10,580 GWh[e] of heat, approaching double and quadruple the respective 2005 demands.

Local; Urban; Solar; Photovoltaic; Hot water; Energy; Assessment; Sunflower