By activating vehicle parking areas with pleasing shade structures, communities will achieve massive deployment of highly visible renewable energy projects that create clean energythrough sustainable design.


Robert Noble | LEED AP

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
By activating vehicle parking areas with pleasing shade structures, communities will achieve massive deployment of highly visible renewable energy projects that create clean energythrough sustainable design.

By Robert Noble, AIA, LEED AP and Pamela Stevens, LEED AP
Envision Solar

Parking lots are a familiar part of modern life, providing the starting and ending point of a visitor’s experience with a site. Characterized by black top surfaces, minimal landscaping, and pole lighting, these open spaces dominate many urban and suburban landscapes.  Since most parking lots are designed to maximize parking space, they lack extensive landscaping, and there are generally very few trees.  The metal mass of numerous vehicles sitting on the black top surfaces collects and radiates heat, creating a less than pleasant experience for the driver and passengers.  In fact, the heat collected by vehicles and the black top surface itself create heat island effect, a serious consequence of modern infrastructure that can damage micro-climates. Urban heat islands (UHI) are metropolitan areas that capture and retain the sun’s energy into the evening. UHIs can increase the magnitude and duration of heat waves within cities, which can lead to increased heat wave mortalities. Cars sitting on cement bring grease to the lot, which is captured by storm water runoff that contaminates municipal collection systems, and pole lights, along with other urban lighting, create an unpleasing urban effect that makes the stars in the night sky invisible.

In the sustainable future, while more efficient public transportation might reduce the role of passenger vehicles to some extent, both vehicles and parking lots are on a parallel road to positive environmental friendliness.  Parking lots can be transformed from blighted and uncomfortable spaces into pleasing “forests” of shade structures that produce clean energy to power buildings and reduce peak demand loads on existing infrastructure and charge electric vehicles, capture storm water run-off, and reduce the heat gain of parked vehicles.  Lighting can be contained beneath a canopy for a more pleasing effect without light pollution in the night sky.  Parking lots can be sustainable spaces.   In fact, by “foresting” parking lots with Solar Trees™, parking lots can be beautified and elevated to a higher and better land use, with an improved and integrated customer experience.

Solar power projects that utilize photovoltaic shade structures in surface parking lots or on the top levels of parking garages create a seamless integration of renewable energy into the built environment that is beautiful, efficient, and useful.  By activating vehicle parking areas with pleasing shade structures, communities will achieve massive deployment of highly visible renewable energy projects that create clean energythrough sustainable design.  In addition, theyenhance the use of the land, creating a positive parking experience that can provide shade, shelter, beauty, and electric vehicle infrastructure. In the sustainable future design precepts and conventions are questioned and new possibilities are considered.  Utilities can be beautiful and parking lots can be sustainable and visually pleasing.

Modern photovoltaic (PV) equipment, which produces electricity from theenergy contained in sunlight, is a proven technology that has been in use for more than 30 years to produce energy. Historically, PV modules have been installed on building rooftops.  These rooftop systems are designed to be hidden from end-user view and experience.  They are designed to be “back-of-house” infrastructure in the same category as air conditioning equipment or electrical panels.

Transitioning a solar array from a static rooftop location to the top of a parking shade or shelter structure activates an amenity for the end-user of the site. Customers benefit from shade and shelter.  The use of a customer’s vehicle becomes a more pleasant experience without the solar gain that results from exposure to the sun, and because photovoltaic panels absorb the heat of the sun and provide shade for the metal mass of the vehicle parked beneath them, the installations have a positive impact on heat island effect.

Furthermore, photovoltaic shade structures create electric vehicle infrastructure that enables a customer to charge their plug-in electric vehicle while it is parked at the site, utilizing the clean energy generated by the photovoltaic’s on the roof of the shade structure. The automotive industry is at a crossroads, with every major auto manufacturer having announced plug-in hybrid electric vehicle initiatives.  General Motors targets an aggressive inaugural year sales of 10,000 units in 2010.

Historically, the question of how to charge electric vehicles once their use becomes widespread has revolved around home outlets or “gas station” type charging stations, and concerns have been raised about the impacts to the grid of daytime charging activities.  However, in the sustainable future, electric vehicle charging stations do not require the inconvenience of a fueling stop.  In fact, they are available where people park their cars in parking lots beneath shade structures.  With charging activity transitioned from an inconvenient fueling experience and integrated into the parking experience, the reach of electric vehicles is expanded.  Furthermore, by ensuring that charging is powered with photovoltaic energy, concerns about over-taxing the electrical grid are addressed.

While some of thebenefits of sustainable parking lots through photovoltaic parking shade structurescan be met with a utilitarian design, a progressive and innovative design that is iconic, beautiful, and integrated seamlessly in to the architecture of the development and the community is a vital component of an effective and sustainable strategy.  Two Solar Grove™ projects in San Diego, California, are based on the concept of bio-mimicry, which takes inspiration for industrial designs from nature.   The projects, one at the surface parking lot of Kyocera’s US headquarters, and the other on the top level of a parking garage at the University of California, San Diego, have “planted” Solar Trees™ as part of an overall sustainability initiative.  Unlike traditional shade structures, Solar Trees™, like trees in nature, have a trunk, branches, and a shade canopy.  The shape makes parking easier because the support post, or trunk, is located at the front of the parking space rather than between parking spaces.  Semi-translucent panels provide filtered light beneath the canopy in the same way that sunlight filters through the leaves of a tree.  In both projects, Solar Trees™ generate clean energy and activate the parking lots with iconic structures that provide shade and electric vehicle infrastructure; at the Kyocera Solar Grove™, bio-swales wereadded to the medians and rain water is directed to these areas to minimize run-off.

In our sustainable future, cities will feature beautiful parking areas that are integrated into the site architecturally.  Parking lots will be Solar Groves™ that blend experience with clean energy, and we will park in the shade and our electric vehicles while we shop, work, or visit.   In fact, with several Solar Grove™ projects underway, our sustainable future starts now.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

Comments (0)

This post does not have any comments. Be the first to leave a comment below.

Post A Comment

You must be logged in before you can post a comment. Login now.

Featured Product

Baja Carports Design-Build Solar Support Systems™

With Baja Carports 35 plus years in the industry installing our Solar Support Systems nationwide and whose founder Bob Hayworth was one of the first to use solar panels as the rooftops on commercial carports ~ is assurance that you will receive Baja expertise in all phases of installation. Our team's diligence makes the design-build process easy for customers. You don't need a set of architecture plans to begin talking to us about your project. Baja's in-house design engineers will work closely with you to meet your project specifications and city's criteria. You'll have our design team's years of experience applied to your plans. Our engineers will deliver a set of stamped plans, which maximize canopy coverage and details the most-effective layout for your business' parking lot.