by Gregory Knoop, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
I want my car to be shaded, protected from snow, and possibly charging while I’m at work or at the market. Soon, that will not only be a wish, but a measure of what is acceptable.
In the 1960s and 70s, the mega parking lots flourished across the U.S. as a support element of the shopping mall. While many may romanticize that by 2020 there will be a rush back to the city and away from suburban malls, that is not likely to happen because suburbs and exurbs will likely continue to flourish. This means we need to reimagine the parking lot.
Photovoltaic canopy arrays have been springing up in parking lots and atop parking structures in more progressive A-class suburban office parks, research campuses, college campuses, and government buildings. Today these are seen as exotic amenities that only a few privileged folks can afford. These are just the piloting of the next generation of retrofits and requirements. While I don’t believe nor encourage these types of installations as required by code, I do believe a combination of incentives and market forces will make photovoltaic shaded parking canopies more possible and valuable to commercial developments. I believe we’re heading for a day where a customer will park in an antiquated open parking lot at the shopping mall in their Ford F150 pre-charge hybrid super truck and be cursing that there is no shade and no charger available on a hot summer day.
What are we talking about? Parking lots and the top levels of parking garages pose great opportunities for an intersection of benefits for the use of PV areas. Vast areas of asphalt for parking hundreds to thousands of cars are miserable expanses during the summer and can be snow or rain drenched planes during inclement weather. At night they need to be secure environments requiring lighting and possible surveillance infrastructure. Cars parked on these lots during the summer require excessive energy to cool off after sitting in direct sunlight. Reduced energy costs or creation of onsite reliable energy will also continue to be necessary.
A PV parking canopy is an array of PV collection panels rack mounted on a structure. They collect energy about 150W/M2. Covering a parking space is the opportunity for 2.25kW of collection with potentials of close to 6,000kWh per year, per space. In addition, this same portion of canopy can shade areas of a parking lot, thus sparing the lot from 60,000 kWh of heat absorption per year. Aside from collecting energy for the grid and providing shade to reduce heat island effect, these structures can provide infrastructure for LED exterior lighting, charging for electric vehicles, and plugs for engine heaters in areas of extreme cold.
As these technologies become more affordable and mainstream, we’ll start to expect them as typical amenities at the market or office rather than seeing them as exotic features at a local research park.
As an example, my local Whole Foods in Gaithersburg, MD has approximately 230 parking spaces. Would Jeff Bezos not look to collect 1.38 million kWh of energy while providing better shopping and parking experience compared to the other markets in the area? How soon would the stand-out become standard? Apply the same approach to your typical stadium lots, your office park, your car dealerships, and more. If Whole Foods were to apply this type of amenity across all of its 470 stores, the organization would be operating a significant size national power plant. The company would then be capable of leveraging additional financial benefits in the renewable energy credit markets.
There are economic incentives and competitive market strategies to be applied. I envision the exotic will become the standard and the consumers will ask …who would make a parking lot without PV canopies?