Parking lots have never really gotten any love. If we think about them at all, our thoughts probably range from “ugly but necessary” to “is that a spot?” But put up a solar canopy or carport in one of those lots and people get excited. Organizations and companies like Google, UMass, REI, and Rutgers University are already on board—here’s why you’re going to be seeing more of them in the future.
- Power and savings. Over their lifetimes, solar canopies can produce significant savings for companies, schools, and cities. Three recently completed canopies in Fremont, CA are projected to save the city $2.6 million over the next 25 years and generate enough energy to power almost 150 homes per year. The largest solar carport in New England, at Bristol Community College, is expected to generate enough energy to cover half of the campus’ electricity needs and generate 20-year savings of more than $1.75 million.
- People love them. To the many customers, employees, and students who want to support energy innovation, solar canopies just make sense. And who doesn’t love getting into a cool car on a hot day, or parking under cover in the rain or snow?
- Environmental benefits. While clean power is an obvious environmental plus, solar canopies have some other benefits as well. Hot vehicles tend to produce higher emissions and up to 20% of the average city is made up of exposed parking lots, so studies show that the use of shaded parking in hot weather can reduce noxious emissions by up to a ton a day for a municipality. Arrays can also be designed to capture rainwater runoff, as in a recent project for a Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn. Rather than flowing into the nearby Gowanus Canal, rainwater is channeled to a storage tank underneath the parking lot and then purified for use in the store.
- Costs are coming down. Solar canopies can be more expensive to put up than rooftop projects, in part because of the additional structures required to support them, but according to GTM Research, average system prices have fallen 51% since 2010. They forecast continued price decreases of up to 24% by 2018. And incentives and pro-solar policies in states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina are paving the way to a brighter future for power-producing parking lots.