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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Justin "Tex" Adkins

”Shade Your Lot”: A Study into the Feasibility of Creating a Business Plan to Emplace Photovoltaic Arrays over Commercial Parking Lots

 

This dissertation addresses the question: to what extent is it economically feasible for a company to lease the space over a commercial parking lot in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, cover it with photovoltaic panels, and sell the power that is produced?  Addressing this question was accomplished through both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. The solar power industry has grown significantly in recent years and continues to grow. Still, the  ajority of new solar arrays are on top of buildings or in open, unused areas.  This dissertation  ackles several problems.  The first is a global need to abate carbon emissions in order to avert the catastrophe that will likely result from a rise in global mean temperatures of more than two  degrees centigrade.   Additional problems result when incoming solar radiation is not mitigated.


Those problems range from human discomfort to property damage to an increase in the urban heat island effect.
Quantitative data and research for this dissertation consists of meteorological data for the region as well as data from the local energy market.  Qualitative data included in-depth, and often multiple, interviews with parking lot owners, solar experts in the region, and solar investors, particularly solar canopy investors.  Interviews revealed that parking lot owners have a generally passive opinion about the covering of their property with canopies and are not as
enthusiastic as was expected and desired.  Many property owners found parking lot canopies to be unattractive.  Restaurant owners feared that coverings could block the architecture of their  buildings, which is, in itself, a form of advertising.  Owners of larger buildings, such as offices  and grocery stores, were more amicable to parking canopies, and grocery store owners were  especially interested in the increased space for print advertisement.
Most of the installed solar canopies that are studied are found in the United States, specifically  in the state of Arizona.  Investors believe that policies there make investment more lucrative  han solar canopy investment in Texas.  In order to ascertain a baseline with which to analyze the sustainability of photovoltaic-covered parking lots, other parking lot coverings were also  analyzed.  These included urban forestry, white roofs, and green roofs, with a focus on urban
forestry.


Energy uses for the power generated from coverings are also considered.  These include use by adjacent buildings and use by electric vehicles.  While use by electric vehicles could potentially  abate some conversion losses, such abatement would not be ubiquitous and common charging  infrastructure could not be used due to the fact that some electric vehicles, such as the Tesla,  use AC induction motors while others use brushless DC motors.
This dissertation concludes that it is economically feasible for a company to lease the space over  a commercial parking lot in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, cover it with photovoltaic panels,  nd sell the power. However, such a company would make a far greater return on its investment  lsewhere in the US.  Until governmental policy changes in Texas, investment in parking lot PV  anopies is not likely.