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Solar PV car park shade

In Australia's sunny climate shade in a car park is a valuable thing. Instead of using simple shade sails, why not use solar panels and generate clean electricity at the same time as keeping the cars cool?

Woolworths have made some effort to adopt solar energy, with rooftop solar, but they could be doing far more, especially in their car-parks.

Written 2012/12/18, modified 2018/01/06
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David Clarke)
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Introduction

This page discuses solar PV installations in car parks, such as those at shopping centres.

 
Simple shaded car park
Shaded car park
At Mount Gambier, South Australia's coolest city
I believe there is another at Port Lincoln, SA's second coolest city
The car park in the photo on the right is in a new shopping centre in Mount Gambier, the coolest city in South Australia. The owners of the centre must have decided that the extra custom that a shaded car park would bring was worth the cost of building the shade structures. (The photo shows only a very small part of the entire shaded car park.)

The cost of installing solar panels rather than simple shade sails would not be huge, and they would create income.

One of the advantages of having the solar shade in a shopping centre car park is that supermarkets have high power consumption for running freezers, refrigerators, air conditioning/heating and lights all the time the PV installation would be generating. The power could be sold to the shopping centre proprietors at retail prices rather than going into the grid and earning only wholesale prices.

Main features

In terms of viability and competitiveness solar shaded car parks have four important features:
  1. Solar photovoltaic installations have become very economically competitive to other forms of electricity generation.
  2. The capital costs of a solar power installation is high, but operational and maintenance costs are very low;
     
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  3. Shade in car parks in the warmer parts of Australia (and other warm or hot countries) is valuable and will attract customers to whatever businesses are nearby;
  4. Supermarkets, hospitals and a number of other facilities use both car parks and large amounts of electricity
The last two of these features sets solar shaded car parks apart from other solar power installations.


 
Solar exposure in Australia
Solar exposure in Oz
This shows that the northern and western settled areas of SA are very well suited to solar power generation; even by the general high standards in Australia. The map shows only the solar power available; solar PV panels work most efficiently at lower temperatures, this factor would make the southern regions comparatively more competitive than the map would indicate.
Graphic credit: Bureau of Meteorology

Points in favour of solar car park shades

Solar panels could be put onto a roof, but then they only have one purpose – to generate electricity – if they are used in car parks they also provide valuable shade.

Favourable features:

  1. Generation of green power
  2. Shade in the warmer weather (The Mount Gambier shade installation above shows that shopping centres may well shade their car parks in future; the solar panels can be incorporated as an integral part of the shade structures.)
  3. Greenhouse mitigation
  4. Environmentally friendly
  5. A local investment controlled by local people, not by remote and anonymous greedy company executives.
  6. Opportunity for people to place their savings in an ethical and local investment and receive a significant return
  7. Not controversial (unlike wind power, everyone seems to accept solar power)
If there is more than one shopping centre in an area and solar shades are offered to both, but one refuses, then that one will lose business to the other.



 
Woolworths Clare, SA, supermarket car-park
New shades

Lost opportunity

The car-park shades in this photo were installed in Woolworths' Clare, SA supermarket in late 2017.

This is a lost opportunity; the same area, which I estimated as 660m2, covered with solar panels would have an installed capacity of about 143kW, and that would generate a substantial part of the supermarket's power needs.

To cover a car park with solar panels would cost more than the way Woolworths have done it, but the difference wouldn't be huge; and the panels would pay for the difference in a few years of reduced electricity bills for the supermarket.

On top of that, if Woolworths were to reduce their consumption of electricity from the grid they would also be reducing the nation's greenhouse emissions and doing a favour to the planet and to future generations.

Giles Parkinson wrote in September of 2015 about Woolworths and solar energy in a piece headlined "Woolworths builds solar portfolio to 1.2MW, well short of 320MW mooted in 2010". In that piece he quoted a spokesman for Woolworths as saying:

“Woolworths has a well established commitment to energy efficiency, low carbon technology and renewables”.
Parkinson also wrote:
"In a submission to the Victorian government going back to 2010, Woolworths suggested that it had more than 3.2 million square metres of roof space across the country, which it said could accommodate total capacity of 320MW."

The amount of solar that Woolworths have actually installed has not done justice to their earlier aspirations or to the Australian people.



The section of the car-park shown in the photo is usually near full; especially since the shade has been installed. This photo was taken early in the morning of New Year's Day 2018.

Why did they install the shades?

The only other supermarket in Clare is Foodland. The car-parks at the rear of Foodland have a fair amount of shade. I suspect that Woolworths' reasoning would be to encourage those shoppers who are aware of the advantages of parking in the shade to shop at Woolworths rather than Foodland.



 
Everyone appreciates shade on a hot day
Sheep sheltering
Sheep sheltering in the shade of a working turbine at Clements Gap Wind Farm

Best opportunity?

There will not be a great incentive for shopping centres that have well used car parks to attract more clientele by installing shading; if their car parks are well used they will see little to be gained by providing shade.

But new shopping centres will want to do everything possible to rapidly get a market share, and installing shade in their car parks will be one way of attracting shoppers away from the established centres. So perhaps the best opportunity will be to offer this to new shopping centres?


Only a matter of time

 

Behind the meter

This is when the power generated by the solar installation is consumed locally at retail prices rather than being sold into the grid at low wholesale rates.

Trust is important in investment

I believe that many people (including myself) no longer trust companies listed on the stock exchanges. It is becoming increasingly clear that the big companies are being run primarily for the benefit of those who control them. A lot of people, I believe, would prefer to invest in a small, local and environmentally friendly solar power installation that they can see and touch rather than placing their money into the hands of greedy corporate executives.
The shaded car park at the Mount Gambier shopping centre shows that at least some shopping centre owners are realising that shade in car parks is valuable in helping to attract customers. The cost of solar PV installations is already at a point where it is close to financially viable, for 'behind-the-meter' installations without government incentives; and it is very likely to become cheaper in the future.

 
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Solar PV installations will soon start appearing in car parks simply because it makes financial sense.

Of course capital must be found for such installations, and green community investment schemes are a way that this capital could be raised.

If prices of solar PV installations fall any further, or if electricity prices rise, installation of solar-shaded car parks will become sufficiently viable for many businesses, not just for community investment schemes; so it could be that there is now, or will be in the near future, a fairly brief 'window of opportunity'.

Links

 
51% of German Renewables owned by German citizens
German ownership of renewables
Credit: Wind-Works.org and Paul Gipe
German solar PV is similar, 39% owned by individuals, 21% by farmers.
In Australia, while most of the small-scale solar PV is in private hands, larger installations are corporate. Almost all the wind power in Australia is in corporate hands.
Bloomberg Businessweek Sun shades cool parking lots, pump out solar energy.

It is interesting to type "solar car park shades" into Google Image Search. Many examples can be seen; this is not a new idea.

Some businesses that can install solar car park shades in Australia. I have no financial or any other sort of connection with any of them.

PowerPark; SmartCarParks; PowerShade



Embark is helping organise a 400kW community owned rooftop solar PV system in Darling Harbour, Sydney. The cost is expected to be around $1m ($2.50/Watt). Embark has a section specifically about solar projects, but as of 2012/12/24 this was somewhat out of date.

South Melbourne Market rooftop array of 150 panels covering five percent of the available roof space; LIVE (Locals Into Victoria's Environment) is aiming at increasing this to over 3000 panels.

The Portland (Victoria) Sustainability Group is working toward a Community Solar Project (http://psg.org.au/page.asp?id=46). Where they differ from this project is they hope to use a grant from Pacific Hydro (owner of the nearby wind farms) to place panels on a large roof.

Small is big as individuals help remove solar finance barriers, by Justing Guay, 2013/01/18, Renew Economy. Discusses 'crowdfunding' particularly by Solar Mosaic.

 
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Existing solar-shaded car parks

Solar car park shade at university in Queensland

An article in Ecogeneration, 2017/05/26, discusses a 1.1MW solar car park shade at the University of South-East Queensland.
"About 3,800 solar PV panels cover an area equivalent to about four football fields, enough for 449 cars. It’s part a $6 million, 2MW rollout that will include rooftop installations at three other USQ campuses. The institution hopes its carbon emissions of 16,000 tonnes a year will be cut by 20%, where purchased electricity accounts for about 88% of emissions."


Solar car park shade in Ipswich, Queensland

 
Ipswich solar shaded car park
Ipswich car park
Image credit OneStepOffTheGrid
One Step off the Grid published a piece written by Sophie Vorrath on 2015/10/23 about "one of Australia's largest solar carports" newly completed in Ipswich, near Brisbane, Queensland.

It has an installed capacity of 100kW and is expected to cut the energy costs of the owner by between 30 and 40 percent.


Californian solar car park shade

 
Californian solar car park
Solar car park
Photo credit: Bloomberg Business Week
 
Californian solar car park
Solar car park
Photo credit: Bloomberg Business Week
Note that the lighting is used to make a feature of the shades as the daylight goes
The pictures on the right are of a car park solar shade set up by San Diago (USA) based company Envision. Each 'solar tree' is about 3.6m tall and has about 90 square metres of solar panels. The Bloomberg Business Week article this was from is dated May 2008, so four and a half years later it will be much more financially viable.

Each of the units in these photos are about 10.3m × 10.3m. If covered with the panels they could support about 60 × 250 Watt panels giving an installed capacity of about 15kW.



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On this page...
Behind the meter
Best opportunity?
Examples
Introduction
Links
Lost opportunity
Main features
Only a matter of time
Points in favour
Trust is important in investment
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