Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Solar power in the parking lot

Google Plants Solar Trees: What are Solar Trees? Well, think of the typical parking lot. Rows of parking slots for cars, and scattered around the lot are trees. The trees might be giving some benefit from shade, but what else? As much as I like trees, parking lots seem like an innapropriate place, because the trees aren't close enough together to form a forest, plus the parking lot blocks the rain from reaching their roots, etc.

Instead Google is launching a project to install solar panels in their parking lots. The panels are on structures that put the panels above the lots, providing shade, and capturing sunlight to make electricity. According to the article their parking lots (and some panels on rooftops) will provide enough space to provide 30 percent of the power requirements of Google's headquarters complex.

To give you an idea of how this would work, I invite you first to use maps.google.com to inspect some typical office complexes. Enter "N 1st St & W Montague Expy, San Jose, CA 95134 and click it to the hybrid map. This location is the heart of Silicon Valley but is typical of office complexes worldwide. What I want you to look at is the relative percentages of rooftop, building, and parking lots. There's a very high proportion of flat areas, either the parking lots or rooftops.

Solar panels in the parking lot would require a structure to be built, simply some poles and an open roofing, that can hold the panels safely above the cars. This is a simple engineering exercise to design. The tricky part would be orienting the panels for southward exposure, but again that's just engineering. Essentially this is a "carport" with the roof made by solar panels.

Google isn't designing this on their own, but is working with an engineering company Energy Innovations. I found this company but their site doesn't discuss the "Solar Tree" projects so I am not sure this is the right company.

Searching for "Solar Trees" I found the 'Solar Grove' project by Kyocera that provides a great picturing of the solar carport idea.

UPDATE December 20, 2006

TreeHugger: Google's Solar Trees Due To Bloom This Spring has more information including a link to the proper company.


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