Why aren’t we doing this here?
In November, the French Senate passed legislation that mandated installation of solar covers over large parking lots. All parking areas with spaces for 80 cars or more will be subject to new law, regardless of whether they are new or already in use.
Parking areas that can accommodate 400 or more cars are subject to somewhat different rules than smaller ones. The timeline for installation is somewhat different, as is the percentage of the lot that must be covered. In addition, there are certain exemptions for parking areas where solar installations might have a negative environmental impact.
According to the French government, the total amount of power produced will be 11 gigawatts (GW). It also said that is the equivalent of ten nuclear power plants. That news requires some explanation, because the solar capacity needed to replace 1 GW of nuclear capacity would be something over 4 GW. So, 11 GW would produce nearly as much electricity as three nuclear reactors. We do not have an explanation of what appears to be a discrepancy.
To get 11 GW of solar capacity installed would require covering a lot of parking lots. In fact it might require covering twice as many as there are in France. But there is an explanation for this, which is not hard to find by doing a little research. As it happens, the parking lots have only part of the area that will be covered. Sidewalks and other open areas where people might gather can provide more. Some vacant lots, roadsides, areas along railroads, some kinds of buildings, and even types of farmland will be used for solar power.
The climate crisis and the energy crisis precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are only part of the reason for the action on solar power in France. Another factor has been the discovery of stress cracks in French nuclear reactors. Even though the units affected happen to include about half of the reactors in France, a decision was made to shut down all of those units for repairs, which is a long-term project. Since nuclear power provides 71% of the electricity in France, the country has had to import quite a lot of electricity while the repairs go on.
One lesson of this is that an energy portfolio benefits from being diversified. This implies that there should be a limit on the percentage of the power supply that comes from any one technology. At 71% nuclear, France was probably too dependent on a singls power source. In this case, over a third of all the country’s power capacity was affected.
France is providing an important part of the solution to its energy problems by installing solar photovoltaics (PVs) to diversify its electricity sources. Clearly, there will be new solar PV installations completed in the near future will not all result from the new law. There will still be rooftop and utility scale solar as it had been under development without the bill. Moreover, France is looking at windpower, both offshore and on, to increase its production of renewable energy. But it is not stopping with just solar and wind. Other types of renewable energy are being developed. One of these is energy from ocean currents.
It is sad that the French people are feeling the effects of a power reduction. But it appears that they may benefit from developing new, reliable, clean resources.
We should be doing this here in the Northeast. We should be doing this across the country.