Sometimes a solution to one problem produces opportunities to solve others. Parking lots and garages provide a case in point.
One problem, we know, is that we have to switch away from fossil fuels to stop climate change. A part of the problem of how to do that is where to site renewable energy resources. Some great types of sites have already been tried and tested. Among the most promising of these is old landfills, which really cannot be used for much else, but we need more sites than those provide.
A different problem is that we need to achieve energy security to provide for communities during extended grid-power outages. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy gave the people of New York and New England their lessons, but they were only minor inconveniences compared to what would happen in a worst case. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has warned us that our electric grids are so vulnerable to terrorist attacks that a well-coordinated and executed operation could bring major grids in this country down for eighteen months. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) warned that a severe coronal ejection could bring grids down for 42 months. Whether we are talking about an ice storm shutting off the power for a few days, or something worse, we should be better prepared than we now are. Community micro-grids, even if they only provide power to a food store and the fire department, are a good step in the right direction.
Recently, Green Lantern, a solar developer based in Waterbury, Vermont, approached the Town of Brattleboro with the idea of putting a solar array on the roof of a town-owned parking garage in between Flat Street and Elliot Street, a downtown area.
The photovoltaic (PV) array would go on the top level of the garage and could be accompanied by a battery system that would provide power during outages, producing a small micro-grid.
The solar photovoltaic panels would not occupy any areas where cars could park, so the facility would not cause any reduction in the town’s parking income. While the lease Green Lantern is suggesting would be modest, at $1,200 per year, it would be a cost-free addition to the town’s budget.
The fact that the micro-grid would be at a parking garage would make it possible to charge electric vehicles there, even during a grid outage. It could also be used in an emergency to provide power for Dottie’s, a thrift food store associated with the Brattleboro Food Coop. It could also be a place where people could charge cell phones, computers, emergency radios, and other equipment.
Of course, Green Lantern hopes to make some profit out of the PV system it is proposing. The solar array would be net-metered. More profit could come from arbitrage, buying power when there is little demand for it and the price is low, and selling it when the demand and price are high. An interesting aspect of this system is that the effect on the market is to increase price stability, and this tends to stabilize, and possibly reduce, the price of power for all customers.
There are other benefits of putting solar PVs at parking lots. One is that solar panels can be installed so as to shade cars, keeping them cool.
Green Lantern is in early development stages for the system for the parking garage. The engineering has begun, but it is far from complete. We really do not even know much about the capacity of the array. We cannot be sure that if the array is installed a battery system would come with it, though there are good arguments to do so. What we do have is an engineering development underway before us that will be interesting to follow, and all the more so because, if it is successful, it could be duplicated elsewhere. Green Lantern’s idea to put PVs on the roof of a parking garage is hardly original, but that as part of a downtown micro-grid could be an innovative solution worthy of note.
G.E.T. will have more about parking areas and solar power. Another PV system that has been installed at a parking area is on our list of upcoming stories. It is part of a large set of projects being done at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, that we will cover together when they are completed. Since the ECHO Center had the first LEED certified building in Vermont, its energy upgrades are sure to be interesting.