Distributed Solar Power, Illustrated

Date: 13 Dec 2010 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

With environmental (e.g. desert tortoise) and political (NIMBY) questions raised about centralized renewable energy generation, it’s worth noting that we can generate a lot of power by covering already developed spaces.  See California, where solar PV arrays cover parking lots, providing peak power and soothing shade for the shielded vehicles underneath.

Not only are these solar-powered carports providing shade and electricity, but also revenue for local school districts.  One district, in Milpitas, CA, will save over $12 million on electricity bills over the estimated 25-year life of the 14 solar carports on district property.  The project was financed as a power purchase agreement, meaning the district can enjoy these savings with no upfront cost (*note: see the next post for an analysis of the financing).

The carports also remove most of the stigma of greenfield development, by occupying unused space above a parking lot without reducing parking capacity.  They’re also arguably an aesthetic improvement over blacktop and yellow striping.  Arguably…

While the solar parking lots have generally been welcomed by local residents, people in one town in San Luis Obispo County were less receptive. A community advisory board in the small coastal town of Los Osos voted 8 to 1 to oppose the panels on parking lots at a local middle and elementary school, with one panel member warning of “visual blight.”

Visual blight by covering a parking lot.

Here’s a few photos of the Milpitas School District solar parking lot canopies.  You be the judge.

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John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power.