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Here Comes the Sun!

Supermarkets should examine putting solar panels over their parking lots.


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Woodbridge Center Mall is currently installing solar panels over one of its outer parking lots.

Richard Turcsik

A couple of Saturdays ago I drove out to Woodbridge Center Mall to do some shopping. Woodbridge Center is one of New Jersey’s largest malls, and while still very healthy with, according to my estimations, an over 90-percent occupancy rate, the parking lot is just not packed like it used to be. As I turned off Woodbridge Center Drive to enter the mall, I was surprised to see one of the major outparcel lots fenced off. I was even more surprised to see what was going on inside.

This parking lot, covering about two acres, was cordoned off because solar panels were being installed above it. Giant steel trusses were in place, and some already had solar panels affixed to their tops. I am not sure if they will power the mall itself, or be tied into the grid since high intensity power lines already go right over the mall property.

Seeing the solar farm construction got me thinking that these solar panels would be a great idea for supermarket parking lots. Many supermarkets already make use of their roofs for solar panels; my local Aldi store, for instance, has solar panels on its roof and a framed picture of them in its front wall to alert its customers about its energy-saving efforts.

However, I have not seen any of these solar installations in supermarket parking lots. In addition to offering free or reduced cost lighting, solar panels installed over parking lots could offer lots of other ancillary benefits. In northern climates they could shelter cars, customers and the lots themselves from snow, helping to drastically reduce snow-plowing costs and the application of salt during the winter months. In hot climates, they can cast shade helping to keep cars cooler.

Another benefit is that the solar panels will stop rain water from falling on the parking lot, where it picks up oil, grease and grime that is washed down the sewers and eventually into the water supply. In fact, water from the solar panels could be channeled down into an aquifer or retention basin where the store could use it to water its grass and plantings.

Plus, I am sure there are tons of tax benefits and community goodwill that an astute PR department could use to drive traffic to that particular store. 

Finally, because these fixtures are producing electricity, they could be used for advertising purposes. I can imagine a backlit or zipper sign on each announcing the weekly specials or serving as a reminder to stock up items during a can-can sale, or enjoy those sweet Washington cherries and Jersey corn and tomatoes while they are in season.  The free power could also run a large neon Las Vegas-style marquee out on the highway entrance or on the building itself that would quickly become a beloved landmark.

To me make full use of the benefits of parking lot solar panels is a bright idea whose time has definitely come.

 

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