Monday, November 29th, 2010...12:34 pm

Solar Power from Parking Lots: A Groundbreaking Innovation

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In the past few months, two topics that have frequently come up in discussion is the environmental and infrastructural impact of car culture in America, and I have found an article in the New York Times that addresses both.
Recently in California, a new eco-friendly trend has been sweeping the school districts: solar paneled parking lots. Though this idea may seem novel and perhaps even shocking at first, it is an innovation that seems as though it may soon become a norm of everyday life. So far over 75 schools, ranging from elementary to community college, have implemented this state of the art technology and seem to only sing its praises. The premise of the idea is this: parking lots are merely vast portions of land that serve no other purpose than car storage. So, why not put this massively underutilized land to better use via clean-energy creation? Parking lots just sit there all day under very useful solar radiation, so these Californian school districts have decided to help alleviate their tight budgets with this potential gold-mine of energy! It’s almost a wonder this idea hasn’t been implemented before.

The apparatus itself is often merely a series of solar panels that create a sort of roof above the cars, and in some instances they are a ‘a broad fan of panels’ that are held by a pole above the cars (some of these can even be used as electric car charging stations!). They can provide a surprisingly large amount of energy and in one school district, during the school year these stations can cover almost 75% of its energy needs, and during the summer all of its energy requirements. In the Bay area alone, these parking lots have generated roughly 20 megawatts, which is enough to power over 3000 homes, and saved one district over $50,000.
Not only does this technology provide clean energy and a much needed income boost for the education system, it also teaches a new generation to accept eco-friendly measures and to view it as an integral part of life. Children in this area will grow up seeing clean energy as a usual commodity and will therefore be confronted with the issue of the clean-energy crisis on a daily basis. Furthermore, as the technology spreads (it’s already began to appear in New Jersey and Canada has become interested in the idea as well), it will, as designer Walter Hood claims, “become more ubiquitous in our landscape” and that one day the public will think of parking lots “as something that is always covered”.

As a whole, this idea is rather exciting! It provides a solution to many of our countries pressing problems: a need for cleaner energy, wasting valuable space, educational budget cuts, and youth who simply don’t seem to care. Yes, this new technology may be a bit hard on the eyes, but honestly, who really cares? It’s not as if parking lots are particularly aesthetically pleasing in the first place. I see this phenomenon as the way of the future. It makes perfect sense to use parking lots as a means to generate solar power and hopefully this idea will grow into a nationwide innovation that can help to push us in the right direction towards technological innovation to unite car culture and eco-friendly ideals. Thoughts?

Parking lots like these have been spreading throughout the country in recent years.

Charlotte Rea

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