It’s another sweltering day and you’ve got to go to the mall. Once parked, you quickly realize that the sun’s heat has turned the parking lot into a virtual lake of fire you have to cross before you can enjoy the air conditioned comfort of the mall.
In any given city, 30 to 50% of its surface area is covered in pavement or concrete, and a large portion of that – 40% – is found in parking lots. Unfortunately, concrete and pavement hungrily absorb, and ultimately waste, all that solar energy. Not only that, but the retained heat in all that urban pavement contributes to a phenomenon known to environmental scientists as the “urban heat island effect,” in which cities are hotter than the areas surrounding them.
Cool Down, Power up
While solar energy technology isn’t new, it’s still young enough that new and innovative ways to gather and generate power from the sun are still emerging. One of the most recent trends has been to cover open parking lots with a canopy of photovoltaic panels. From shopping malls and schools to hotels and sports stadiums, a wide range of organizations and institutions are installing solar arrays over their parking lots.
The benefits of solar parking lots go far beyond the clean, sustainable energy they provide, although most would agree that energy production is their primary function. But, while solar parking lots are busy decreasing their owner’s dependence on utility-provided energy, they’re also cooling the cars parked in their shade, reducing the need for air conditioning, and saving fuel.
And, in an era where corporate and institutional responsibility has become a priority, solar parking lots provide visible, tangible proof of their owner’s commitment to the environment. Finally, it isn’t lost on most observers that solar parking lots are easy on the eyes.
Clearing the Hurdles
The race to solar parking lots isn’t without its challenges. The biggest obstacle many organizations encounter is cost. Simply put, installing solar arrays over parking lots is a cost-intensive venture that requires more planning, materials and construction labor than the typical solar installation.
Fortunately, many organizations are able to take advantage of state-level incentives to defray or offset a good portion of the cost. In addition, as the trend toward solar parking lots gathers momentum, costs are starting to head down as economies of scale become a factor.
The Future’s So Bright
As it is now, the high costs associated with solar parking lots will test many organizations’ ROI but, as costs drop and government incentives become more readily available, that horizon will be easier to reach. With its momentum continuing to gather steam, solar parking lots are an idea whose time has come.