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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions > Solar Energy

Solar Trees in Parking Lots - Convergence of Energy, Buildings, & Transportation

ONE environmental installation by Envision Solar provides solutions for: runoff, light pollution, solar energy cogeneration, and urban heat islands.

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Solar power generation can be beautiful. It can be affordable and efficient. Solar doesn't have to sit on rooftops.

Parking lots are valuable real estate that can actually generate power and revenue. They can provide additional LEED points and be incorporated as key sustainable design elements of any project.

Envision Solar International Inc., a San Diego, CA global developer of solar integrated building systems, is planting Solar Groves in parking lots across the country. (VIEW GALLERY)

Solar Parking Lot Applications

The two-year-old company sees owners of large parking lots such as shopping malls, amusement parks, hospitals and schools, as prime candidates for its 12-foot-tall, 10-kilowatt Solar Trees.

“Parking lots are the awful forgotten wasteland of every project,” Noble, a LEED-accredited architect, says. “We do ‘solar you can see.’ It’s the most public presentation of a company or agency’s commitment to sustainability.”

Cost of Solar Tree/Solar Grove Energy Systems

Providing both shade and solar-powered energy, Solar Trees cost about $8 to $10 per watt installed, or $100,000 per tress. Former CEO of Tucker Sadler Architects, Noble designed the first Solar Trees installation (dubbed a Solar Grove) for solar module manufacturer Kyocera Solar. The 25 Solar Trees deployed in Kyocera's employee parking lot generate 421,000 kilowatt hours annually.

Noble says Envision has nearly 100 projects in the pipeline and 10 currently under contract. Some clients purchase the Solar Trees outright and others enter power purchase agreements (PPAs), in which third-party financiers maintain ownership of the panels and the hosts of the panels are guaranteed a specific electricity rate over time.

Convergence of Solar, Buildings, Transportation with Solar Panels to Cover Parking Lots

In January, Envision Solar provided the National Renewable Energy Laboratory with a Solar Tree that incorporates one 120-volt outlet per parking space at a demonstration site in Golden, Colo., meant to accomodate plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). Noble says he encourages all clients to incorporate PHEV outlets in their Solar Trees.

“We are at the convergence of the solar, building infrastructure and transportation industries,” Noble says. When it designs a Solar Grove, Envision Solar incorporates stormwater management features such as bioswales and permeable paving.

A privately-held company, Envision’s leadership team includes Bill Adelson, a former senior associate at Tucker Sadler Architects, Pam Stevens, former president of national operations at Westfield, LLC, the world’s largest shopping center REIT, and Karen Morgan, president and founder of Generating Assets, an integrated solar finance and developer.

The company’s advisory panel includes David Gottfried, CEO and Founder of Regenerative Ventures and the founder of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system, and John Waters, Rocky Mountain Institute’s PHEV vice president. The Envision Solar Grove™ is a highly customizable, aesthetically-designed, photovoltaic-integrated parking lot solar system. Originally designed for Kyocera Solar, the simple elegance of the Solar Grove™ lends itself to a variety of surroundings and terrain that could otherwise prove challenging to more standard designs.

Light Biomimicry with Solar Trees in Parking Applications

The design is based on a graceful analogy, known as "biomimicry" — just as a citrus grove absorbs sunlight to produce food, a Solar Grove™ absorbs sunlight and produces energy. The analogy continues -- the frame and modules of the Solar Tree become its “canopy,” the support structure becomes the “limbs” and “trunk,” while the base foundation and wiring beneath the earth is known as the “taproot.”

Solar Design Innovation for Multiple Green Solutions

The Envision Solar Grove™ can be sized and positioned to meet the needs of the facility, and is particularly useful in sloping parking lots or lining curved edges.

The single support column per tree allows for unhindered maneuverability about the parking area.

Unique heavy-duty light fixtures turn on automatically at dusk and shine up toward the canopy, which illuminates the parking area for nighttime safety.

Eight translucent solar modules allow light to pass up through the tree to create another visually appealing sight. During the day, these translucent models allow dappled sunlight to pass through to the ground — a bit like leaves on a real tree would allow.

Environmental Benefits Provided by a Solar Grove™

  • RUN-OFF FILTRATION - Tilted canopies of Solar Trees help to route rainwater into bio-swales porous, organic material that filters pollutants from parking lot run-off.
  • MINIMIZED LIGHT POLLUTION - There is no direct skyward lighting. Lighting under the Solar Grove is indirect and stopped at the underside of the canopy.
  • REDUCTION OF THE URBAN HEAT-ISLAND EFFECT - Solar Groves™ help reduce the heat absorbed by paved surfaces throughout a sunny day by shading the asphalt.
Commercial Market Sectors Served: Commercial Real Estate, Corporate Real Estate, Federal Government, Healthcare, Higher Education, Hospitality & Entertainment, K-12 Education, Local Government, Retail, Small Business, State Government

Products: Energy Management Systems, Energy Simulation, Tracking & Monitoring Software, Energy Systems (CHP, Fuel Systems, Fuel Cells, Wind Power, Solar/Photovoltaics, Geothermal, Thermal Storage), Lighting

Envision Solar International, Inc.
4225 Executive Square Suite 480
La Jolla, CA 92037.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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