Solar Roofs over Parking Lots Are Going Viral in California and The Southwest

This is in the New York Times this week:

Ersatz roofs made of solar panels have sprouted above dozens of school parking lots in the state [of California], altering vistas and promoting a philosophy of green thinking among the young. Yet the primary driver of the solar roofs is economic. . . . Schools were not the first to move in this direction. Leading the way in this re-creation of the suburban landscape was Google, which added solar canopies to the parking lots at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., three years ago. Some come with outlets for solar-charging electric cars. “At the Googleplex, the P.V. is almost acting like a grove of trees,” Mr. Hood said. But schools are now at the leading edge of the trend. “This will soon be the norm,” said Michelle O’Shea, a science teacher at Leland High School in southwestern San Jose, where the parking lot went solar a year ago. “It will be hard to imagine that we didn’t do this.”

I live in Lancaster, California, and barely a football field down from where I live (across the street at the local college) is a solar parking lot project. And the subject comes up frequently in the local news. It certainly appears that the asphalt-heat-sinks-turned-to-solar-collectors idea is going viral:

“I’ve gotten calls from Hawaii, from Canada, from all over California,” said John Cimino, the director of maintenance, operations and transportation for the Milpitas Unified School District, northeast of San Jose. The solar panels fulfill 75 percent of his district’s annual electricity needs during the school year, he said, and 100 percent of its summer needs.

And the money that would otherwise be left on the table if communities didn’t start doing this is huge, especially in desert areas like the Antelope Valley:

Brian Swanson, a spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility that serves most communities in the Bay Area, said that the overall capacity of school-based photovoltaic systems there grew nearly fivefold from 2008 to 2009, to 15.5 megawatts from 327 kilowatts. This year, the cumulative total was 20 megawatts, enough to power 3,500 homes. Yet in the Southern California city of Lancaster, a single parking-lot solar system being constructed by the Antelope Valley Unified School District could reach 9.6 megawatts, according to Mat Havens, the district’s director of facilities. The estimated savings over the 20-year life of a generating contract can run from $12 million for a district like Milpitas (although savings last year were a much more modest $51,000) to $40 million for Antelope Valley.

Whenever I see, near where I live and work, the solar parking lot being built, I feel hopeful about the human future.

If you’re a principle of a school, or the president of a college—or the owner of a store with a big parking lot—might you look into calling around to your local utility about how to get a solar parking lot project going? And if you’re a parent, student, teacher, or employee, might you bring this subject up with administrators or employers—and get this idea going viral outside of just California and the Southwest?:

[S]olar parking lots are not solely a California or Southwest phenomenon. In New Jersey, two elementary schools and a middle school in Newark plan to install them in addition to rooftop photovoltaic installations on the school buildings. Boonton High School in Morris County, N.J., is building solar coverings for its parking lots to supplement photovoltaic systems being installed on the roofs of its ice rinks.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Solar Roofs over Parking Lots Are Going Viral in California and The Southwest

  1. jean-philippe says:

    ANY roof should be used either fur Solar power or gardening.

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