France has passed legislation that will require all parking lots with more than 80 spaces to be covered over by solar panels. This is part of a broader effort to put solar panels on vacant lots, empty land alongside roadways and train tracks, and even some farmland. The overall program would add 11 gigawatts of solar power to the French electricity grid.
The legislation applies to both new and existing parking lots. Owners of parking lots with more than 400 spaces would have 3 years to comply, while owners of lots with 80 to 400 spaces would have five years.
To produce 11 gigawatts of solar output, about half a percent of France’s urban land would need to be covered with solar panels. This is quite a bit, but not an insurmountable obstacle. Parking lots, however, could only provide a fraction of what is needed. It would take something like 8 million parking spaces covered with solar panels to produce that much power. That is probably at least twice as many as France has.
Several countries, most notably Germany, already have mandates for new construction to incorporate renewable energy. This includes solar panels, biomass boilers, heat pumps, and wind turbines. Many parking lots in southern Europe already have sunshades over them, which would make it pretty easy to install solar panels. This is much rarer in cooler countries.
France is pursuing this policy to reduce its dependence on nuclear power, which currently provides 70% of the country’s electricity. Apart from the general trend of opposition to nuclear power, reliance upon it during increasingly common droughts is problematic as the power plants require significant amounts of water to operate.
France’s plan for solar panels on all car parks is just the start of an urban renewable revolution
Photo, posted February 11, 2008, courtesy of Armando Jimenez / U.S. Army Environmental Command via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.