Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Distributed Solar


Solar parking structure at METRO station

In 2018 Virginia was identified as one of the states that is not utilizing their technical potential for rooftop solar. Since that time Virginia passed the VCEA, the Virginia Clean Economy Act. State incentives a well as the mandates could help build solar. However, utility scale solar farms may not be the only or best answer. Distributed solar as part of a series of microgrids along with solar farms built on brownfields or closed landfills can be used to achieve the goals of the VCEA without building on more fragile ecosystems in our essential watersheds.

Proposed site for a solar farm in Bull Run Watershed

For instance the Washington, D.C., Metro transit system has recently contracted to build solar canopies at four of its rail station parking lots, with a projected capacity of 10 megawatts. This has been in the works for several years.  After extensive planning Metro negotiated a 25-year contract with TotalEnergies to install and MN8 Energy LLC. to own and operate solar carports at four Metro sites. 

When the solar carports are completed and operational, the 11 acres of solar panels (equivalent to 8 football fields) will collectively generate around 10 megawatts of electrical capacity. This is a first step, but still, this project one of the largest community solar projects in the Mid-Atlantic region and in the nation. Community solar may be the way of the future.

Commuter parking lots, the parking lots and rooftops of the rapidly spreading commercial and industrial development in Prince William and Loudoun Counties are potentially all locations for solar. Commuter and community parking with solar and EV charging stations could also address some of the challenges with the replacement of internal combustion automobiles with electric vehicles.  

Construction cost are higher for solar-powered parking structures with EV charging than for a rural solar “farm.” The physical structures need to be taller and more robust than a conventional solar farm, requiring more materials like metal and concrete; however, utilizing existing parking lots with existing stormwater management infrastructure reduces those costs. EV chargers also cost money, but addresses the need for accessible EV charging infrastructure for diverse populations and communities.   

Southern Avenue under construction

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