Image courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles

Solar, Solar Everywhere! Clever & Creative Uses Are Dotting The Landscape

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We’re starting to see solar everywhere, even as appropriate siting continues to be an issue to generate electricity from solar in bulk. As the cost of solar panels continues to drop, it is becoming increasingly competitive as a popular energy source for individual households, businesses of all sizes, and municipalities. As a result, some solar applications are quite clever, creative, and imaginative. Let’s check some of them out. Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution!

Sports Stadiums — Not Exactly Solar Everywhere, but Getting There

With the Super Bowl creating reasons for parties, betting, and interfamily rivalries, it’s interesting to learn that the NFL continues to expand their solar capacity and move closer towards covering their electricity usage with solar energy. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) tracks this clean energy progress. Of the major US sports, NFL stadiums lead the way with 32% of stadiums powered by onsite solar arrays.

Here’s a breakout of prominent sports homes and their solar use.

  • FedEx Field: The home field of the Washington Commanders, it has a 2 MW array. An early adopter, the team installed more than 8,000 panels onsite, making the array one of the largest in the DC area. The system meets 20% of gameday operation needs and covers all of non-gameday power usage.
  • America First Field: This Major League Soccer site also has 2 MW of capacity installed. Home to Real Salt Lake, the stadium has 73% of its total energy consumption covered by the 6,423 panels installed on site. It is the largest solar array investment in Major League Soccer.
  • Capital One Arena: This NHL home ice for the Washington Capitals as well as the NBA’s Washington Wizards purchases power from a 3.5 MW offsite installation in nearby Maryland. It ranks as the second-largest offsite procurement of renewable energy in US sports.
  • Lincoln Financial Field: It’s pretty exciting to think that the the Philadelphia Eagles, who are headed to the Super Bowl, offer a football stadium with an 11,000 panel array and 4 MW of power capacity. The team is expected to save over $60 million over the life of the array, which covered about one-third of the stadium’s annual energy usage.
  • Golden 1 Center: The NBA’s Sacramento Kings stadium boasts a whopping 8.6 MW portfolio. Using a mix of onsite and offsite installations, the Center represents 58% of the capacity installed at NBA arenas. It is the world’s first arena to be 100% solar powered year-round.

New Law in France Escalates Parking Lot Solar

France has decided it would be pretty efficient to use parking lots to generate as much electricity as 10 nuclear power plants, so a new law will require canopies of solar panels to be erected on the top of all substantial lots in the country.

  • As of July 1, 2023, lots with between 80 and 400 spaces have 5 years to add solar panels as roofs over the parking spaces.
  • Lots with more than 400 spaces must be covered in solar panels within three years.
  • At least 50% of the surface of these large lots must be covered.
  • The largest parking lots in transit and shopping areas will produce the most energy, while historic areas and lots for tall trucks are exempt from the new initiative.

The parking lot panels are expected to generate up to 11 gigawatts of energy. This is equivalent to the power of 10 nuclear reactors.

French President Emmanuel Macron has made the Law for the Acceleration of the Production of Renewable Energy central to his climate policy. Not only does the move make France a world leader in attempts to in efforts to spread solar panels over as many surfaces as possible with solar panels, climate activists are commending the law as an entrée to more extensive plans to phase out fossil fuels in the coming years.

Removing existing agricultural land or converting open fields to solar farms is unattractive, but covering parking lots “harms biodiversity a lot less,” Arnaud Schwartz, president of France Nature Environment, an umbrella group of French environmentalist organizations, told the Washington Post. “We live already in parts of the world where it’s pretty dense. Human beings are everywhere.”

The expansion could add as much as 8% to France’s current electrical capacity.

Harnessing The Light Spectrum for Plant Growth

Projections show that by 2050 we will need 60% more food and 40% more water to satisfy the demands of our growing population, all this in addition to 50% more energy thus adding significant stress at the nexus between water, energy, and food. According to a new study from the University of California, the blue part of the light spectrum is the most efficient for solar energy production, while the red part is better for plant growth and crop yield. How can scientists harness the sun’s complete light spectrum to improve agrivoltaic system’s effectiveness in arid agricultural areas?

In a plain language summary, the authors describe how achieving sustainability for the deeply interlinked water, energy, and food systems requires “revolutionary, rather than incremental, solutions at their nexus.” Forms of food and energy co-generation like agrivoltaics can not only co-exist but can boost land and water efficiencies and improve soil health.

Because advancements along those lines require deep understanding of how plants react to different incident light spectra, the authors point to the importance of different light spectra and show that those spectra, if optimized in terms of their utilization, can lead to sustainable and more efficient food and energy systems. For example, the red part of the light spectrum is more efficient in terms of carbon assimilation and water use, while the blue part could be more effectively used to produce solar energy.

In standard agrivoltaics, crops are grown under fully opaque solar panels, where shading can be complete or partial, depending on the arrangement of the PV modules. The socioeconomic potential of such systems are clear, yet the increasing development of wavelength-selective semi-transparent modules, or “organic PV” provide unique opportunities to garner some parts of the incoming light spectrum to generate energy and letting through mostly the parts of the spectrum that are more useful for the plants. This study also suggests that wavelength-selective agrivoltaic systems may be sensitive to environmental factors and crop type.

To fully reach full potential, accurate plant models are needed that explicitly consider light and PAR spectra to compute the crop productivity.

UPDATE: We reached out to the authors of the study “Not All Light Spectra Were Created Equal: Can We Harvest Light for Optimum Food-Energy Co-Generation?” with the following question:

Q: How do you foresee your research in practical agricultural applications in years to come?

“Our paper opened the door for technology innovation by showing the benefits of optimizing light spectra. We believe this can boost research aimed at making spectrum-splitting panels more efficient, affordable and practical. We envision agrivoltaics advancing in two directions: by implementing more efficient Organic photovoltaic (OPV) and by conducting agrivoltaic trials with light filters and commercial PV panels. We hope that in the coming years we can see it widely applied in agriculture, helping to achieve a more sustainable water-food-energy nexus.”

We asked France Nature Environment the following question:

Q: What other areas of renewables are you advocating for?

As the law is about to be published (March possibly), you should know that the final text is quite different now:
    • solar panels covering parking lots above 1500m² from July 2023
    • new non-residential buildings above 500m² should be covered
    • and existing non-residential buildings too from 2028
    • areas possessed by rail and road network operator are priority
    • measures are missing for the residential buildings
We were advocating for all artificialised areas to be equipped : building roofs – residential and non-residential above 250m², parking lots (above 250m²), polluted areas.

We have also reached out to the SEIA with some questions and will update this article when we hear back from them.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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