Yesterday Envision Solar and Bright Automotive announced plans to develop a nationwide network of solar panel equipped parking lots. The basic idea is to install Florida style carport covers over existing parking lots and then fill the open roof space with PV panels. While the partnership's plan is to use the solar energy for PHEV charging stations, the electricity could just as easily be used in the businesses that own and maintain the parking lots or sold back into the power grid. It's one of the most customer friendly approaches I've seen for dual-use distributed power generation. After all, there's no sense pushing acres of solar farms into the boondocks and then building new transmission lines to bring the power back to places where people live when we already have millions of acres devoted to parking lots in urban and suburban areas that can easily be converted to dual use and readily connected to the local electric grids.
I was in Scottsdale last spring and used a covered grocery store parking lot for the first time. Since our rental car had leather seats, my wife and I were both wearing shorts and the temperature was in the mid-90s, we thought the parking lot covers were a wonderful customer service; exactly what one would expect from a considerate Scottsdale merchant like AJ's Fine Foods. The idea of adding solar panels and turning a customer service into a productive asset is a minor stroke of genius.
I found out about the Envision Solar - Bright Automotive partnership because they plan to use advanced lead-carbon PbC™ batteries from Axion Power International (NASDAQ:AXPW) to provide short-term energy storage for their PHEV charging stations. But with or without PHEV charging stations and with or without short-term energy storage, the fundamental idea is just good common sense.
When I was much younger, Joni Mitchell protested suburban sprawl in Big Yellow Taxi, a Bob Dylan song that included the now famous refrain "they paved paradise, they put up a parking lot." Wouldn't it be supreme irony to see a perceived catastrophe of the '70s turned into one of the biggest energy opportunities of the new millennium.
Coming to a mall near you, megawatts of clean solar power that offers nothing but benefits for parking lot owners and the customers that use them.
Disclosure: Author is a former director of Axion Power International and holds a substantial long position in its stock.