SolarWorld solar blog

Solar canopy systems turn parking lots into electric power plants

Posted 9 May 2011 12:00 AM by Ben Santarris, Head of Corporate Communications and Sustainability

Urban planners long have searched for better ways of handling that eyesore of car-based living, the sprawling parking lot. But so far, their most workable ideas have amounted to burying them under or sticking them behind buildings.

Solar Canopy at the Cincinnati Zoo – turning parking lots into solar energy power plantsToday’s dedication of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden may be the most prominent and mainstream example of a long-awaited approach that serves several purposes. Its giant solar canopy shows how a giant parking lot can double as an electric power plant – and look better, too. (Of course, they also put the associated buildings and communities, not to mention the plant, on a clean energy footing that is more likely to work long-term.)

Here you have an expanse of asphalt that typically features lots of unobstructed space and weather exposure. At public locations where parents must juggle baby strollers and picnic baskets under sun or rain, the opportunity is even more obvious.

The Cincinnati project, which will use 15 arrays of SolarWorld panels to offset about 20 percent of the site’s electricity use, marks a big milestone in the public awareness of this ingenious solar application. However, solar canopies have gone up in California for years.

About 3,000 panels made at SolarWorld’s factory in Camarillo, Calif., composed one of the earliest big U.S. solar canopies. In 2003, California State University at Northridge installed the project in hopes of saving $50,000 annually in energy costs.

The Cincinnati Zoo solar projectuses 15 arrays of SolarWorld solar panelsThe trend continued. Last year, an installation of our panels atop parking canopies in California offered 300 kilowatts-peak for the Antelope Valley Transit Authority in Lancaster (shown in picture at left) while providing shade from the Southern California sun for up to 100 vehicles and their drivers and passengers.

This year, we are installing our own solar canopy system in our visitor parking lot at the U.S. headquarters and factory in Hillsboro, Ore., just in time for the warm summer. The 130 solar panel system will generate 30 kilowatts-peak of electricity.

Not all parking lots are suitable, of course. Shade undermines solar electric generation, so the presence of lots of tall buildings, trees or lampposts can be deal-killers.

Know of any good opportunities where you park? Consider talking with the parking lot’s owner.

Read the Cincinnati Zoo press release.