Fresh off its triumphant foray into statusy e-mobility with the all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV, the Ford Motor Co. is now setting the bar on rooftop solar power with an array of 2,159 panels covering the top floor of its Deck 400 parking garage. We say it’s the best ever because now you can’t park any cars there even if you wanted to. The less cars the better, right? And yet…and yet…something is missing from this picture.
One Small Rooftop Solar Array, & More EV Charging Stations
The figure of 2,159 solar panels may sound impressive, as does the 1,127 megawatt-hours of electricity the newly commissioned rooftop solar array is generating annually, but in the great scheme of things the new Ford project is rather smallish.
However, in the great scheme of things the new solar array is also important, because it demonstrates that owners of parking garages don’t necessarily have to squeeze every last parking space out of their property. Instead of parking on the roof, they can put solar panels.
The Ford project is also important because it demonstrates that a rooftop solar project doesn’t necessarily need to have a grid connection. According to Ford, electricity from the solar panels will go to an integrated battery-type energy storage system, which is dedicated to serving newly installed electric vehicle chargers at the garage.
Also, the new project marks another milestone in the energy company DTE’s march into renewable energy and EV charging. DTE installed both the rooftop solar panels and the energy storage system at Deck 400, and it is part of a multi-utility collaboration aimed at building out the EV fast-charging network in the Midwest.
To be clear, we don’t know if the new solar array replaced any parking spots at all, or if it is grid-connected or not. Ford’s press release on the new Deck 400 solar array was a pretty bare-bones affair, so we’ll have to reach out to them for all the details. Stay tuned for more on that.
Meanwhile, it’s a good guess that some of those new EV charging stations will be put to use by some of the happy owners of the Mach-E, who are apparently growing in number despite an industry-wide supply bottleneck.
One Rooftop Solar Array Is Just Part Of The Plan
There is a lot more to the Deck 400 story. It’s part of a campus-wide re-do of Ford’s Research & Engineering Center in Dearborn, Michigan that includes a new 2 million square-foot building. Apparently in order to make way for the new building, Deck 400 was relocated.
Or was it? We’ll ask Ford about that, too. In the meantime, take a look at the Master Plan rolled out by the lead architect on the campus makeover, Snøhetta. As proposed, the new campus is more oriented toward walkability than the old campus. Parking is moved to an outer perimeter, which could explain the relocation of Deck 400.
“Movement within this core campus is pedestrian-focused and transit-rich, connected directly to amenities and key adjacencies and networked through a shared transportation loop, limiting personal vehicular access to the site’s perimeter,” explains Snøhetta.
Along with the consolidation of operations in one building, 86-ing parking spots from the interior of the campus opens up all sorts of pedestrian-friendly possibilities.
“Destination conference rooms and inspiring meeting spaces provide opportunities for on-campus retreats, offering connected outdoor environments and pavilions that people can use across all four seasons,” says Snøhetta, adding that “the Master Plan’s response to the site’s core mobility, site, and architectural systems was driven by the need for consolidated and interconnected workplaces; ecological thinking about the landscape that creates habitat for people, flora, and fauna in equal measure; and intelligent campus mobility systems that will evolve over time.”
What Is Missing From Ford’s Deck 400?
If you guessed that bicycles are missing from this picture, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. After all, Ford has been prepping for a cycling-inclusive mobility future at least since 2016, when it introduced a Ford-branded e-bike among other two-wheeled models.
More recently, last October Ford partnered with the Brooklyn-based tech incubator Newlab to launch two new mobility innovation studios in Michigan, which we’re guessing will include a dose of bicycles of various sorts.
Newlab has become a familiar face around on the CleanTechnica radar, thanks in part to its support for e-cycling startups as well as e-scooters and electric motorcycles. Last fall, for example, Newlab previewed offerings from the e-bike retrofit company CLIP, and a couples-friendly e-bike with built-in storage from Civilized Cycles, among others.
And that, finally, brings us to the absence of bicycles from Ford’s press release on Parking Deck 400. It appears that the entire output of the new rooftop solar array will be dedicated to charging electric cars, with nothing left over for e-bikes.
Energy Harvesting To The Rescue
That brings us right back around to Newlab. Snøhetta does promise that the campus will evolve, and with that in mind let’s take a look at a Newlab-nurtured startup that may have an e-bike solution for Deck 400 and many other decks, too.
Last month, CleanTechnica took a trip over to Newlab’s HQ at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to check out the first public demo of an energy harvesting system engineered by the startup RoadPower.
Harvesting energy from passing cars has been a twinkle in the eye of sustainability engineers for quite some time now and not much as happened. However, RoadPower took a deep dive into the topic and came up with a technology tweak that maximizes the energy input. Instead of relying only from an up-and-down motion, RoadPower’s device also collects energy horizontally.
The device is also designed to resolve some tricky questions about road-based energy harvesting, such as “isn’t RoadPower taking energy from vehicles as opposed to recovering it?”
“RoadPower units are installed where vehicles are required to decelerate & brake,” the company patiently explains. “By placing RoadPower platforms at these locations they actually recover a significant portion of vehicular kinetic energy that would’ve otherwise gone to waste as heat & friction via the braking process.”
The RoadPower device also dovetails nicely with electric vehicles, as RoadPower describes:
“Electric vehicles already do something similar via regenerative braking which enables them to recover some of their kinetic energy while decelerating that would have otherwise been wasted while braking. Electric vehicle manufacturers have already figured out that there is an opportunity for kinetic energy waste recovery and have long-since integrated these solutions into their electric vehicle fleets.”
To ice the sustainability cake, the device is surface-installed, like one of those temporary metal bumps used to cover cables.
Having driven over the device several times, CleanTechnica can testify that it feels no different than driving over one of those little metal bumps.
More to the point, the RoadPower system includes an energy storage component. So, if there is no room at the inn for e-bike charging from the new rooftop solar array at Deck 400, perhaps RoadPower’s new energy harvesting device will fit the bill. After all, it’s a big parking lot with many opportunities for decelerating and braking. All you need to do is make a bit of extra room for a bike rack and Bob’s your uncle.
On the heels of its successful public demo, RoadPower is planning on a series of larger pilot projects this year.
Looking at you, Ford.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image (cropped): Master Plan for Ford Engineering & Research Center courtesy of Snøhetta.
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