A few other sites have mentioned this already, so it won't be news to many of you, but electronics manufacturer Kyocera -- who makes solar panels, among other devices -- has installed a "grove" of solar "trees" in the parking lot of its San Diego, California headquarters. The "trees" act as shades for the cars and asphalt -- reducing the need for car air conditioning and the "heat island" effect from the blacktop -- and have a generation potential of 235 kilowatts, working out (according to Kyocera) to about 421,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
Set aside for a moment the cost of the project and the fact that it got a 36% kickback from the state of California. As the price of solar comes down -- and cheap plastic solar comes onto the market -- we're going to see lots more of this. The solar energy hitting the ground on parking lots (and on roofs and roads and sidewalks and...) is wasted, for the most part. Last year, the American Geophysical Union estimated that the total built-up surfaces in the United States amounted to 112,610 square kilometers (an area bigger than the state of Ohio). If just one-tenth of one percent of that surface area -- 113 square kilometers (or 113,000,000 square meters) -- had 5% efficient plastic solar coverage, we'd be looking at a total energy generation potential of over 5.6 gigawatts. Not quite enough to power the whole country, but a pretty good start nonetheless.
I saw a similar project in Gelsenkirken, Germany in 1996.
If you ever get a chance to see a presentation by architect Steve Strong, on photovoltaics and other uses of solar energy, please do so.
This may be a bit nitpicking (I hope not too bad) but, with an eye toward sustainability, the cheap plastic is wonderful but how will we continue to be able to make those post peak oil? I'm also worried about maintenence.
The idea sounds wonderful but it seems like we're still caught in the cheap oil cycle.
Please point out where I'm wrong since I could easily be missing something here (I'm new to the whole sustainability project)
Syniel: Plastics don't all require petroleum and many can be recycled. In many cases of building-integrated photo-voltaics, it's probably displacing other materials that are even more energy and petroleum-intensive.
Thanks very much for the clarification, Daniel !