News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Solar Parking Project Finds Space In Oakley

Artist's conception, Oakley Solar Project | Photo: Robin Heuer

Here's the kind of no-brainer renewable energy project we at ReWire would like to see all over the state: using solar panels to provide shaded parking. This particular new installation will be built in the Sacramento Delta town of Oakley; it will provide a bit of shelter for stored boats and Recreational Vehicles at the Contra Costa County hamlet's Executive RV & Boat Storage facility, and it will provide a bit of income for the array's owner besides.

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The steel canopies, which will cover 170,000 square feet of parking space, will be built by Bay Area company Baja Construction and Cenergy Power, using 295-watt PV modules built by S-Energy, a former subsidiary of Samsung that spun itself off in 2001. The $9.5 million project was kicked off Wednesday morning at a formal groundbreaking.

PG&E will buy all power generated by the 1.68 megawatt facility for 20 years under the utility's feed-in tariff program.

A 2010 study by researchers at UC Berkeley suggests that there may be as many as 800 million parking spaces in the U.S. A large percentage of those are exposed to the elements. Each standard parking space covers about 200 square feet.

Estimates of the number of parking spaces in California aren't easy to come by. If we assume that California accounts for 1/50th of the national total of parking spaces -- and it's surely way more than that, given our size, population, and car-centric landscape -- that's 115 square miles of area taken up by parking places. At California's solar intensity, covering that area with PV could generate almost 1.5 terawatt-hours of electricity a day. That's significantly more than the state uses on even a high-demand day.

And as anyone who's come out to a car that's been sitting in a sunny parking lot in the desert can tell you, shading parking spaces conserves energy even if you don't use the shade canopy to generate power. The amount of gasoline used each summer day to power AC in overheated cars is considerable.

And yet there are relatively few PV-covered parking lot canopies in the state. Projects like the one in Oakley, extended to parking lots that people use on a daily basis, would seem to be a low-hanging fruit for California's renewable energy planners. Solarizing the state's parking spaces would notably improve the quality of life in a whole lot of interior cities. It's a shame we don't take it more seriously.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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Check out the same solar panel/parking shade concept at Taft High School in Woodland Hills.