Green Parking: The Aesthetic Way
As environmental regulations strengthen and financial incentives materialize, investment in renewable energy continues to grow. Advances in solar energy have transformed the way we look at the roofs of our buildings, the open expanse of our deserts and even the space in our yards.
Although most solar energy applications center on roofs, an alternative approach in realizing the potential that lies in the miles and miles of paved parking surfaces.
The concept behind solar carports or shade structures provides the foundation necessary to transform parking lots and garage decks from desolate heat traps into energy-producing entities. Parking lots, especially, no longer need to be viewed by developers as wasteful property dictated by the need for parking spaces.
Parking can be beautiful, and energy production can be beautiful. Envision Solar was founded by architects and designers, so it comes as no surprise that the structures they design are as attractive as they are functional.
This artful approach to delivering energy solutions is materialized in the company’s Solar Tree. Each individual array is a Solar Tree; collectively, they form a Solar Grove. It completed eight solar parking array projects in 2008 – totaling more than 1.3 megawatts of solar photovoltaic systems – at health-care facilities, universities and commercial developments.
Two projects completed for the University of California San Diego – at the Gilman and Hopkins parking structures – offer tangible models to the potential of solar parking arrays. The single support column per “tree” allows for unhindered maneuverability under the parking area, and the highly customizable feature of the Solar Grove allows the structures to be sized and positioned to meet the needs of each facility.
With 275,000 kWH of annual power production at the Gilman parking structure and 494,000 kWH at the Hopkins garage, real energy solutions are being realized. In addition to energy production, each site offers shade to parking spaces – 92 at Gilman and 160 at Hopkins.
Another innovative initiative is creating the necessary infrastructure to address the surge of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles entering the market over the next few years. These new types of vehicles will create demand on existing parking facilities to offer charging stations.
The Solar Tree can accommodate the re-charging of two separate vehicles simultaneously and produces 5,300 kWH of clean, on-site renewable energy annually.
The reconfiguration of parking lots and structures from desolate wasteland to valuable asset, both ecologically and economically, demonstrates the innovation that is possible in sustainable development. The green revolution is upon us, and Solar Tree arrays are paving the way, one parking lot at a time.
Drew Adams is with Envision Solar. He can be reached through its website, www.envisionsolar.com.