Just the other day, Cleantechnica reported that GE foresees the cost of solar power falling below that of fossil fuels and nuclear energy within the next five years, and the tech giant has wasted no time positioning itself to ride that transition. Its latest move is a foray into solar power installations at parking lots, and true to form the company pulled out all the stops for this one. One of the largest installations of its kind in North America, the new GE Electric Vehicle Solar Carport in Plainville, Connecticut is packed with high tech goodies to accommodate the growing demand for zero-emission cars.
Solar Energy, Fossil Fuels and EVs
The new solar carport is designed to demonstrate that renewable energy can scale up enough to provide renewable energy for electric vehicles in the mass market. That’s a pretty fundamental goal. Without significant amounts of new alternative energy coming online, all these EVs hitting the road will have to rely mainly on fossil fuels and nuclear energy to get their charge. On the flip side, having a solar parking lot with charging capability is the best of both worlds. You get the clean renewable energy and you also get the convenience of combining a charging session with your daily commute (compare that to lining up at the gas station…).
The GE Electric Vehicle Solar Carport
GE estimates that its new solar carport will deliver 125 MW hours annually over its 25 year lifespan. GE is not the first to install a solar carport (the New Jersey National Guard is among those beating it to the punch), but this one is designed specifically to charge electric vehicles. GE’s partner in the project, Inovateus Solar LLC, used several different designs in order to demonstrate various options for solar charging stations and showcase GE’s new technologies. In addition to fully charging up to 13 EVs daily, the solar panels will provide enough electricity to power the carport’s own overhead lighting. The whole thing is grid-connected, so GE anticipates shunting excess solar energy to the grid and drawing from it as needed.
Mining Parking Lots for Renewable Energy
Parking lots may seem like vast barren fields of asphalt, but new solar technology is rapidly transforming them into resources for harvesting clean, renewable, low cost energy – without putting local communities at risk for long term economic malaise and environmental damage (compare that to coal mining, for example). On the business side, solar carports add value to a lot of acreage that sits idle for many hours per week, especially in the case of corporate parks and other facilities that don’t operate on weekends.
Parking Lots and Brownfields for Renewable Energy
The use of parking lots for solar energy meshes with the Obama administration’s push for alternative energy on brownfields and other classified sites, through the EPA’s Re-Powering America’s Land program. As with solar parking lots, the EPA program puts damaged, underused land to work rather than ripping apart virgin habitats. That in turn complements a recent study by The Nature Conservancy, which makes the case for focusing wind turbine installations on developed lands rather than putting wildlife habitats under new stress. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, but between brownfields and parking lots the U.S. has plenty of room for sustainable new energy generation.
Image: Parking lot by Andre Um on flickr.com.
- “GE: Solar Power Cheaper than Fossil Fuels in 5 years” and related posts (cleantechnica.com)
- How Green is Your Utility? NREL Rates the Top Ten for Renewable Energy (cleantechnica.com)
- Japan May Require Solar Panels on All New Buildings by 2030 (cleantechnica.com)
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.