Politicians are tripping over themselves when it comes to energy and renewable policy. While debates around the future of our electricity sources are complex, there are elements of this solution that are just plain simply that we could get done today.
When we build car parks at shopping centres, they’re often covered in shade sails to shelter the cars from the weather. If we’re going to cover them, then let’s cover them with something that is dual-purpose – Solar panels.
Not only can a solar car park provide shelter from the elements, but they can also collect power from the sun, paying for themselves many times over during the lifespan of the panels (up to 25 years).
One implementation simply collects the power and returns it to the grid, allowing the shopping centre to offset the amount of electricity used inside the buildings.
Another implementation is a little more forward-leaning, offering electric vehicles the ability to recharging while their occupants go shopping. As EVs costs come down and adoption increases, we’re going to need many more charging locations and shopping centres could be the perfect fit.
It’d be fun to see a price war break out between shopping centre recharging rates, enticing EV owners to shop in their store instead of the competition.
There are few things our Governments can agree on, but this seems like something both the Labor and Liberal-National Coalition could get behind.
In December last year, Vicinity Centres complete Australia’s largest solar car park installation. Located in Adelaide, SA, 1,400 car spaces are now covered by solar panels.
The system is 2.7MW in size, or about 4,000 times larger than the 6.5kW system on my roof, it’s clear they’re not kidding about their Net Zero carbon emission goal by 2030.
The solar car park adds to the 2.7MW of rooftop solar that was added to the Elizabeth City Centre back in 2018, bringing the total to a massive 5.9MW.
Another member of the Vicinity Centres portfolio is Castle Plaza. This also has 430 solar shaded parking spaces, further demonstrating their commitment to renewables and a clear understanding of the return on investment.
More than 12,000 solar panels have been laid across the two car parks, covering approximately 22,000sqm.
The combined rooftop and carpark solar systems from both sites is projected to generate more than 11.5 GWh, enough to power more than 2,000 average SA homes for a year.
While this is a great example of what’s possible, Vicinity Centres are massive, with $17.4 billion in annual retail sales, they’re able to finance these solar projects.
We need these carparks everywhere in Australia and many smaller operations certainly won’t be able to fund their rollout.
This is where Government incentives could really help. In the consumer world, state incentives have helped millions of Australians get solar on their roof, and if initiatives similar to Victoria’s Solar Homes Programs were applied to business, it could set a firecracker under commercial carpark adoption.
Those that combine solar car parks with EV charging should have access to a double-benefit. Those that add battery storage should get even further benefits.
There’s a number of financing structures that could work here. Governments could simply offer 3-4 year interest-free loans, or take a percentage of revenue from EV charging stations.
If you have thoughts or ideas on solar car parks, then leave it in the comments below.