By Don Vessey, San Diego Friends Meeting.
America is fast realizing the importance of solar energy. Switching to solar power is not only an environmental necessity, but it makes financial sense as well. It reduces global warming not only by reducing the use of fossil fuels, but potentially in other ways too. San Diego Friends Meeting was intent on switching to solar power for its campus and in researching the options, discovered some interesting facts. In particular, research by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory revealed that in most cities, 35 to 50 percent of the surface area is pavement made of asphalt and concrete that absorb the sun’s energy and retain the heat.
This contributes to the “urban heat island effect,” which accounts for the fact that cities are hotter than surrounding areas. Covering all this pavement with solar panels would not only generate electricity but also reduce surface warming. If these solar panels are elevated on canopies that form solar carports, cities achieve the additional benefit of providing shade for cars.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy states that being able to park in the shade in the summer is actually a substantial contributor to increased vehicle fuel efficiency because people don’t have to cool their cars back down after a long period in the sun. Since it has been estimated that roughly 40 percent of the pavement in cities is due to parking lots, there is potential for significant reduction in surface warming.
For these reasons, the San Diego Friends Meeting decided to install a canopy solar system for a portion of their parking lot. Using funds bequeathed to them by a former member and a contribution from the Church of the Brethren with whom they share the campus, San Diego Friends recently finished the installation of the canopy solar system. It provides sufficient energy to power the entire campus, which also includes the American Friends Service Committee and Peace Resource Center; and parking in the shade is lovely.