In honor of Earth Day 2010 (tomorrow!) I’m focusing on sustainability issues in Phoenix. Monday I touched on 3 of the biggest sustainability challenges in Phoenix and yesterday I focused on the over abundance of parking in our city center.  But we can’t talk about sustainability in Phoenix without talking about solar power.  So today, I’d like to talk about this issue and discuss some creative ways we can incorporate solar power within the existing fabric of our city.

Ever Wonder Why Solar Power Isn’t more Prevalent?

There are 2 major drawbacks of solar power production.  First, photovoltaic (PV) panels are extremely inefficient.  It takes 240sf to
produce 2kW of power, which is about half of what an average home uses in electricy per month.  Second, PV panels are very expensive even after rebates and incentives.  The upfront cost of a solar array that produces enough energy to make it worth your while is going to be around
$25,000.  With rebates and incentives you will end up coughing up around $15,000 or more.  That’s pricey!

These two drawbacks, in-efficiency and cost, make it hard for me to believe that with the current technology, residential solar power is a viable option.

Thinking out of the box, or into the Big-Box with Solar:

Here’s the opportunity:  Remember how SPRAWL is one of the biggest sustainability challenges I talked
about in Monday’s post?  Here’s an idea on how we can turn SPRAWL to our advantage using solar power.

Sprawl is a result of extremely low-density development, which is something we’re very good at in Phoenix.  Big-box stores (think Walmart and Costco) and the sea of parking associated with them are major contributors to sprawl.  But let’s face it, these stores are already here and they are a part of our city at this point.  So the question is, can we turn these big-box bohemoths into an environmental asset instead of a liability?

Wal-Mart parking lot – photo from Eco Friendly Mag

What do big-box stores and their parking lots provide?  Lot’s of surface area.  And what do we need for sufficient solar power production?  Lot’s of surface area.

So here’s the what-if, wouldn’t it be great idea.  What if and wouldn’t it be great if there were incentives in place for big-box stores like Walmart and Costco to install PV panels on their roofs.  And to take it one step further, what if and wouldn’t it be great if they had even bigger incentives to install parking canopies with PV panels to their seas of parking?

Solar Parking Canopies – photo from Alaniz Construction

Instead of going out into undeveloped land and creating solar farms, it makes more environmental sense to integrate solar power production into the existing fabric of our city.

Solar parking canopies and rooftop solar on big warehouses are already happening in places like California and Washington.  We’re finally catching on in Arizona too. In fact, it was announced today that Crawley Companies is installing a huge rooftop solar array on one of their warehouses in Phoenix.  I’d like to see much more of this happening and not only with warehouses either.  We need to add solar PV panels to every building that takes up an inordinate amount of land – big-box retail stores, malls, strip malls, you name it.  If you’re going to be a SPRAWLER at least produce some clean renewable energy!

We need creative thinking around solar power…

You may be thinking, solar power has been around since the 70’s and everyone’s already come up with ways to make solar power effective.  Not true people!  It’s weird, but solar power hasn’t had many creative leaps since its inception.  In fact, solar power manufacturers are frantically trying to catch up to this era with more efficient products.  And with all the talk and buzz about sustainable cities, we’re not moving fast enough to make solar power a viable option, even in sunny cities like ours.  So let’s think, brainstorm, create, imagine, ideate around this!

Tell me your ideas about solar power and how to make it into a viable option for Phoenix…leave me a comment!

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4 Responses

  1. […] idea addresses the two biggest problems with solar power that I mentioned in my previous post How Sprawl could help Phoenix become a Pioneer in Solar Power.  The first is that solar panels are extremely inefficient and you need a great deal of square […]

  2. […] program.  I’ve blogged before about solar possibilities for Phoenix by putting arrays on parking canopies and big-box stores and bringing solar gardens to our vacant lots.  I was happy to see that Mayor Gordon had suggested […]

  3. Chris Metzger says:

    Definitely use the space we already have,
    but also look the outsourcing problems that Wal-Mart causes. Supporting them would, in my opinion, be considered being a bad “neighbor” to other countries.

    We should think about local businesses.

    But yes, yes, utilize the space. I couldn’t imagine re centralizing Phoenix and abandoning all the new suburbs…but I suppose that’s what we did to downtown.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Chris, this is a good question to consider, which is the lesser of the two evils? Perpetuating Wal-Mart or accepting their existence and putting the space they take up to good use?

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