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Maps for new-energy entrepreneurs

Agriculture & Energy

The quest for alternative energy is the gold rush of our era. And as with any gold rush, the companies that sell miners their picks and shovels have a good chance of success. FirstLook is that kind of company. Instead of digging tools, it sells detailed reports to new-energy entrepreneurs. Those reports show just how much wind or sunshine an area is likely to receive, based on years’ worth of meteorological data. The company advertises its reports via a free interactive map, which uses Google Maps. Preliminary information from the map helps entrepreneurs determine whether a windmill or solar-panel installation at a chosen location would make good financial sense. Registered users simply log in and click a location on the interactive map. Immediately, they receive a brief run-down on the area’s potential. Wind reports, for example, show the area’s average wind speed at different heights, which correspond to the possible heights of a windmill tower. Solar maps give the average daily illumination the same spot receives at differing angles. That information on sunlight angles is critical, unless the project employs solar panels that track the sun’s movement across the sky. Websites run by the Department of Energy and other government and environmental organizations already provide similar information, though maybe with a less easy-to-use interface. But energy entrepreneurs will need something far more detailed if they hope to convince bankers or investors to fund their projects. A simple mouse click takes them to FirstLook’s reports page, where they can buy a detailed report USD 1,000 and up. For now FirstLook’s data appears limited to US locations. But the company has plans to expand to other nations, a move it hopes to help finance with country-based sponsorships. Meanwhile, worldwide demand for wind and solar energy is growing, aptly insuring FirstLook’s potential for growth. At the same time, the alternative energy gold rush will no doubt present other opportunities for pick-and-shovel start-ups. Spotted by: Ryan Flynn



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