Amid Europe’s unprecedented energy crisis worsened by Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, France just took a remarkable step towards gaining more independence in meeting its energy demand and accelerating the adoption of renewable energy. To be more precise, French senators adopted a law on November 4th, 2022, requiring existing and new outdoor parking lots of more than 80 spaces to be covered with solar panels.
This new law is expected to generate up to 11 gigawatts of power (the equivalent of about 10 nuclear reactors). The regulation will come into effect from the 1st of July 2023, and as of this date, at least half of the surface area of the concerned parking lots will need to be covered progressively with solar panels. The deadline to conform to this regulation will be dependent on the size of the parking lot. Parking lots with 80 to 400 spaces will have five years to conform to the law, whereas those with more than 400 spaces will have a three-year deadline to conform to the new regulation. In case of non-conformity, a monthly sanction of 50 euros per parking spot will be imposed on the non-conforming parking lot.
A few exceptions apply however to this legislation. For example, parking lots for trucks (over 7.5 tons) won’t have to be covered with solar panels. Parking lots near remarkable sites will also be exempted from this regulation in order to avoid denaturing these sites.
Controversies Over the New Law
Initially, this law was proposed for parking lots more than 2500 m2, but was later changed by French senators to be implemented in terms of parking spots (above 80 parking spots) and not in terms of surface area. While some argue that the use of number of parking spots as a qualifying criterion is clearer and reduces ambiguity, others think that the use of total surface area of the parking lot as a criterion is better given that individual parking spots could have varying sizes.
Another controversy relates to the need for an extended deadline for compliance in the event of difficulties with the supply of solar panels for the parking lots. This controversy results from the fact that the solar industry is still underdeveloped in France and the European Union, as a result, this new law will imply large importations of solar panels from Asian countries with a more advanced solar industry such as China. While some think an extended deadline for compliance will give France and the EU a chance to develop the local solar industry and supply these solar panels locally (which will benefit their economy); others think that given the urgency of the need to decarbonize our economy, there is therefore no more time to wait.
Why Do We Need More Parking Lots Covered with Solar Panels?
Large solar arrays are oftentimes installed on open spaces rather than already developed areas. This necessitates the clearing of large fields, and results in the destruction of natural habitats for native plants and animals. Placing solar panels on already developed land such as parking lots will minimize the impact of solar panels on biodiversity, as this land has already been stripped of its biological value.
Also, with the rapidly growing global population, undeveloped land is becoming a dwindling resource needed to meet a host of human demands such as infrastructure, agriculture, water purification, etc. This implies that installing large solar farms on open undeveloped land further increases the pressure placed on this limited resource. On the other hand, installing solar panels on already developed land relieves this pressure, enabling the undeveloped lands to be used to meet other competing demands.
In addition, installing solar panels on large parking lots enables the production of abundant energy close to consumers, thus limiting transmission costs, while also yielding other benefits such as providing shade for parking users.
A study by Deshmukh and Pearce (2021) estimates that covering all Walmart parking lots in the United States could generate a total capacity of 11.1 gigawatts of solar power — roughly equivalent to a dozen large coal-fired power plants. This energy could be used to provide power to the store, the neighboring community and for charging parked electric vehicles, while providing shade for clients.
Why are Solar Panel Covered Parking Lots Not More Popular?
Despite the numerous benefits which solar panel covered parking lots could yield, it is worth mentioning that installing solar panels on developed land such as parking lots and rooftops, could cost up to 5 times more than doing so on open space. It is also easier to manage a large solar farm on an open space, than managing several smaller solar farms on developed land such as parking lots. Given these challenges, in order to enhance the practice of installing solar panels on developed land such as parking lots, it is important that governments come up with laws and incentives that will promote the installation of solar farms on already developed land such as parking lots instead of more fragile or productive ecosystems.
Swaraj Sanjay Deshmukh, Joshua M. Pearce, Electric vehicle charging potential from retail parking lot solar photovoltaic awnings. Renewable Energy, Volume 169, 2021, Pages 608-617, ISSN 0960-1481, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2021.01.068.
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