Ryan, Dylan France has enacted legislation that mandates solar panels be installed on the roofs of all parking lots with more than 80 spaces. This is a part of a larger scheme that will see solar panels installed on certain farmland, unoccupied land next to roads and railroads, and vacant lots in abandoned buildings.
This is anticipated to boost the French electrical system by 11 gigawatts, or the equivalent of ten nuclear reactors.
Do the Sums Make Sense? and Should Other Nations Follow Suit?
Germany is one of the nations that has already made it mandatory for architects and builders of new structures to include renewable energy sources in their plans, such as rooftop solar panels, biomass boilers, heat pumps, and wind turbines. Both brand-new and old parking lots would be subject to French policy.
The typical parking space is 11.52 meters in length and 2.4 meters wide. Assuming a 120 watts per meter output, this translates to 1.4 kilowatts of power in each bay. Within the parking lot, there would be additional room above walkways and traffic lanes, but the solar panels would need to be kept far enough apart to prevent them from shadowing one another.
You would need to cover around 7.7 million parking spaces to achieve an output of 11 gigawatts. How many people in France meet the criteria? The number of spaces and automobiles in the UK is between 3 and 4 million. Similar in size, France’s fleet numbers 38 million. 7.7 million spaces, therefore, seem improbable.
However, the law extends far beyond parking lots to include much of urban land. Theoretically, 11 gigawatts of solar energy might be produced on 92 km of French urban territory (defined as any built-up region with more than 5,000 people).
Although it may seem like a lot, it actually accounts for 0.106% of France’s 86,500 km2 of urban land. 430 km of solar would provide the same amount of power each year in gigawatt-hours as those 10 nuclear plants when capacity factors (how much energy each source produces annually relative to its full theoretical output) between French nuclear (70%) and French solar (15%) are taken into account.
Only 0.5% of French urban land, or roughly 0.07% of France’s total territory, has to be covered with these panels. Car parks will therefore only make up a small fraction of the overall program, although it is still viable.
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Coming to a Car Park Near You
The UK and countries farther north receive less sunshine per square meter and the sun sets later, which exacerbates the problem of shadowing on panels, however, the longer summer days partially make up for it.
Additionally, while many parking lots in southern Europe already have sun shades covering them (enabling the mounting of solar panels onto pre-existing structures), this is uncommon in places with milder climates. As a result, mounting panels on building roofs rather than the nearby parking lot would likely be much simpler in certain nations. Other choices, including wind turbines, may be workable substitutes if solar panels are not possible.
Similar to how certain parking lots, particularly those in city centers, are partially shaded by neighboring tall buildings during the day. But there is no reason why panels couldn’t be placed over them instead.
France is probably adopting this strategy to lessen its reliance on nuclear energy, which generates 70% of the nation’s electricity. When demand is steady, this setup functions. It becomes an issue when, for instance, a drought compels several plants to shut down or reduce their power output. The grid in France will also need to use a variety of energy sources and storage methods as a result of the addition of several million electric vehicles and heat pumps.
Both electricity and heating in the UK are dependent on gas. It makes a lot of sense to develop a more diverse energy source, much of which is directly related to the residences or cars that are using that power. Car parks should be the starting point, but not the finish, of any strategy to unlock the green energy potential of unused space in towns and cities.
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At Edinburgh Napier University, Dylan Ryan teaches mechanical and energy engineering courses.
Dylan Ryan has declared that they have no relevant affiliations beyond their academic position and that they have no employment or consulting relationships with, equity participation in, or financial support from, any company or organization that would profit from this study.