A Smart Energy Module for California
A simple example of a resilient, affordable, future-proof, and sensible energy solution for the State of California. Even though solar canopies are popping up everywhere, few of us realize all of the benefits they are capable of providing. Consider the following:
Practical, Affordable Siting. Because they tend to cover parking areas, these structures generally have great sun exposure, can be sited for best sun orientation, and are cheaper to install at scale than residential rooftop solar.
Combining with EV Charging. The fact that they cover parking spaces also means it is easy to combine them with EV charging capabilities. To the extent this can be used for mid-day charging of EVs, it has the potential of significantly ameliorating California's "duck curve" of excessive mid-day generation followed by an early evening peak. By charging these cars during the day, they both reduce the mid-day surplus and reduce their need to charge at night. In addition, because cars need to be charged anyway, the round trip losses and costs associated with using batteries as solar energy storage are dramaically reduced.
Employers Committing to Renewables. By teaming with California employers, many of whom, like Apple and Google are already committed to generating 100% of the energy needs from clean renewables, these facilities can produce power locally, limiting both transmission losses and lessening transmission congestion.
Facilitating Community Solar. By encouraging employers to "overbuild" their sites, solar panels on these sites can be leased or sold to residential customers, often at costs lower than they would bear on their own homes. In addition, for the roughly 50% of residents who cannot do rooftop solar because their roof is shaded, they rent, or they live in apartment buildings, this allows them to participate in the solar revolution on a voluntary and non-discriminatory basis.
Better Net Metering. Currently, individual homeowners are allowed to "net-meter" their rooftop solar systems. It has been argued that this favors wealthier households and disadvantages the utilities that are foced to buy this power. By converting to having more of our solar in these canopy-based community systems, the benefits can be made available to all, the utility can be paid for its services in distributing the power and the community benefits by reducing its energy costs.
Weather Protection. In a warmer climate, providing shade for our cars reduces their daily air conditioning load and it reduces the heat that builds up from tarmac baking in the sun. In rainy times, these canopies provide shelter from the weather.
Fits the Community-Choice Aggregation Model. For California communities that have chosen the State's Community Choice program, this is an easy way to put affordable solar onto school and other community sites, again allowing for a broader proportion of residents to participate.
Future Ready. As we know, car manufacturers are increasing promising a future of autonomous vehicles. In that world, many of us will choose not to own a car, but will access autnomous cars whe needed. That means fleets of autonomous cars will need to be at the ready in convenient local sites, ideally ones where they can be charging while they wait. Local solar canopies with charging and parking make ideal locations for that autonomous future.