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.

By late 2018 I was noticing that solar panels were being used to shade things like sale yards as well as car parks. They were also being used to protect cars from hail damage.

Written 2012/12/18, edited 2020/07/01
Contact: David K Clarke – ©

Google search Ramblings


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;
  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.

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 rather than for the investors or the customers; consider the findings of the Royal Commission on Australia's banking practices. 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 discussed at the top of this page 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 was, at the time of writing, at a point where it was close to financially viable, for 'behind-the-meter' installations without government incentives; and there was every reason to believe that it would become cheaper in the future.

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.

Some 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 Adelaide, South Australia

Flinders University installed a large solar PV car park shade in the second half of 2018 at one of its campuses. Almost 6000 panels were installed with a capacity of 1.8 MW; it has been estimated that they will generate 2,700 MWh per year.

I took the photo on the right in early March 2020 during a Wind Farm Noise Sleep Study that my wife and I took part in as subjects. It shows only a part of one of a number of sections of the solar installation.

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.

Solar carports protecting cars from hail

Solar panels being used to protect cars from hail
Car protection
The photo is of a car dealership in McKinney, Texas, USA.

Image credit Autonews, Canada
The photo on the right was in an articles titled "How solar panels can protect dealerships in Canada's Hailstorm Alley" written by Kelly Taylor in Autonews, Canada.

Kelly Taylor wrote:

"In 2015 at his three dealerships in the heart of Alberta’s Hailstorm Alley, Garrett Scott felt Mother Nature’s wrath: 600 vehicles damaged with an average claim of $11,000."
The car dealer was covered by insurance, but still suffered substantial financial losses, and of course, the insurance company would be advantaged by having their risk at this business greatly reduced in future.

Hail damage to panels – possible.
Hail damage to cars – avoided

It is interesting that the possible financial risk from future hail damage to the solar panels must be considered to be small in comparison to future hail damage that will be avoided on the cars.

I've written specifically about hail damage to solar panels on another page on this site.

A win-win-win situation

The car dealers involved would gain by reducing their power bills as well as protecting their cars from hail damage. The planet gains by increased renewable energy abating fossil fuel generated energy.

Not just car parks

Solar installation

My wife, dog and I were on holiday in Victoria when we happened upon the place in the large photo above. I thought at first it might have been a feed lot for sheep, but I'm reliably informed it's sale yards. It was a few kilometres west of Ballarat. What interested me was the approximately two and a half thousand solar panels, which would amount to an installed capacity of around 700-800 kW. The photo was taken by my drone on 2018/12/07.

Everyone appreciates shade on a hot day
Sheep shade
Photo credit Professor Linda Connor

Not just solar panels, wind turbines too

The photo on the right was taken at Wattle Point Wind Farm by Linda Connor in November 2018. It shows sheep sheltering in the shade of a working turbine at Clements Gap Wind Farm near Crystal Brook, South Australia.

Sheep sheltering
Sheep sheltering in the shade of a working turbine at Clements Gap Wind Farm
I took this photo myself at Clements Gap Wind Farm on 2012/01/15. Both this and the above photos show sheep sheltering in the shade of working wind turbines, quite a common sight in the warmer weather.

Related pages

External sites

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 them.

PowerPark; Solar Car Parks; Solar Car Park Shade Structures; Solar Car Park Shading.

Others can be found with an Internet search.

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.

How Calgary (in Canada) became an unlikely location for a creative solar solution, The Chronicle Herald

Flinders Uni solar shaded car park; Almost 6000 solar panels to power our campus.

On this site

Australia's energy future

South Australia's energy future

Solar car park shade

Solar power: recent significant developments

Solar power: a historical snapshot

Climate change

Climate change, 'natural' disasters and what we should be doing