Nowadays, parking lots are seen as a serious problem – and a large part of America’s transportation, design and energy systems. What is so problematic about parking lots? To start, an abundance of resources are spent to simply cover large amounts of open space with concrete. Every entity, from churches and schools to shopping malls and government agencies, needs parking space for its customers, guests, students and employees. These individuals need to drive themselves to their destination in their cars – many of which are not powered by #solar energy but fossil fuels – and leave the vehicles in places where they don’t obstruct traffic. These lots become dangerous to negotiate. This is why parking lots are a necessary evil, if you will. When the lots are empty, they look like a huge waste of space – space that would be put to better use in other ways. As mentioned via the Daily Beast, in 2005, an Environmental Protection Administration study estimated that there were over 105.2 million parking spaces in the United States; that number is much larger nowadays. In fact, others have estimated that there are over 500 million parking spaces in the country and that they take up an area larger than both Rhode Island and Delaware put together. This huge area looked very attractive to the solar energy industry. It was just a matter of time until somebody somewhere raised the important question: wouldn’t it be profitable and sustainable to place solar panels on all of this wasted space?
Consequently, parking lots have gained a lot of attention lately. With the advancements in solar technology, parking lots can be a part of the solution when it comes to energy production and use. How is this possible? Simple: parking lots are being transformed into small solar power plants. Because the typical solar power panel is placed on open fields or on the roofs of buildings, it fits perfectly on a parking lot. As long as the space gets direct exposure to sunlight, the solar panel will do its job and produce green, clean solar energy. As long as canopies that support the solar panels can be built over the parking lots, the lots transform into solar power generators. Suddenly, all of that otherwise wasted space is not wasted anymore. There is now a real possibility to produce solar energy from there – and this possibility is very alluring
In addition to producing solar energy, the canopies that are slowly covering more and more parking lots in the US provide many more benefits. During the hot summer days, they provide much needed shade to both vehicles and people. Meanwhile, the solar panels on top are producing solar energy at maximum capacity. During rainy weather, the canopies provide great shelter from the rain. And during the winter months, the canopies protect people and vehicles from snow. Even though the solar panels are not producing as much solar energy when it is raining and during the winter months, they are still producing it tirelessly.
Taking into consideration the fact that producing solar energy from solar panels placed on parking lots is a viable option – and one which can be turned into a profit – several companies have emerged trying to put this energy to good use. For example, Solaire Generation, based in New York City, already produces solar energy from more than 23,000 parking spaces (over 2.9 million square feet of space). According to the company’s website, they “see a unique opportunity to make a significant and enduring contribution to the global deployment of renewable energy through the parking lot.”
The company supplies around 25 percent of the energy needs of a Whole Foods in Brooklyn and has a 3.8-megawatt installation at the Dow Jones headquarters. At Dow Jones, the installation spans over 230,000 square feet of parking lots and manages to output more than 50 percent of the building’s energy needs daily. An even more ambitious project is located at Rutgers University in New Jersey. There, the installation covers 28 acres of parking lots and is able to output up to 8 megawatts of energy. According to Solaire, the Rutgers University installation is the largest of its kind in the US. And new solar projects and ideas are being penned every year.
In South Carolina, Clemson University and Duke Energy have partnered up to build a solar canopy over some parking space near the Memorial Stadium. The installation will generate around one megawatt of solar energy, enough to supply over 33 percent of the power used by the Memorial Stadium. According to Brett Dalton, Clemson’s executive VP for finance and operations, “The project is another step toward Clemson’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. We look forward to continuing to work with Duke Energy to convert more of Clemson’s power usage to renewable energy sources.”
However, solar canopies placed over parking lots are most popular in the sunniest parts of the United States. The Metropolitan Atlantic Rapid Transit Authority has a huge solar canopy in Georgia that covers its entire bus depot. California also sees a lot of solar canopies being built on parking lots and carports. M Bar C Construction, a California-based company has already completed several projects at schools, universities and colleges across the state. These solar canopies are producing green solar energy from solar sources daily.
The obvious next step would be to turn these solar canopies into fueling stations. The electric vehicles that are parked in the parking lots covered by solar canopies could be recharged during the day. In other words, your vehicle would recharge just sitting there while you are shopping, studying, working or just going about your day. The electric vehicle market is booming, with more than 11,000 new all-electric vehicles being sold in the US every month. California, the king of solar power, has over 100,000 electric vehicles on its roads. This means that it makes a lot of sense to use the solar canopies to recharge the vehicles which are stationed underneath them. Some solar canopy owners have already started building electric-vehicle charging stations at their canopies. Recharging your vehicle at these stations is expected to be cheaper and more efficient than charging at other points in the city.
The Future of Solar is Bright
If the entire area of parking lots in the United States were to be covered in solar canopies, the energy produced would be astounding. Nobody has been able to do the math yet, but entire cities would be powered just from the solar energy produced by these solar canopies. This solar energy has several benefits. The first and most obvious benefit is that the United States will have to rely a lot less on fossil fuels and nuclear reaction for energy. This will obviously decrease pollution significantly. In addition, the cost of the energy will start to drop, which means US residents will start saving money. The space that was once considered wasted – parking lots – will produce solar energy day after day, month after month. Being able to capture more solar energy should also encourage the major players in the industry to find new, innovative ways to harvest energy through the use of more advanced solar panels. As long as there is demand, the solar energy industry will not cease to expand. A solar canopy may be coming to a parking lot near you sooner than expected. Now may be the perfect time to get that electric vehicle you always wanted!