Sunday, August 7, 2011

solar powered parking lot.

A solar powered parking lot?

Sure, why not?

My favorite place to pick on for many years, has been the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. It's such an easy target, I suppose I should quit doing it. Anyway, here we have a shiny (literally) brand new 'Park and Ride' commuter parking lot. Out along Old Route 7 between Hamilton, Va. and Paeonian Springs, Va. (Paeonian, not Pierian, if there is a Pierian Spring anywhere near DC, no one has ever found it). A year ago, this was a fallow pasture. Does anyone want to get into a discussion about the relative value of locally produced pastured cattle or dairy versus yet still another parking lot? Seriously? Okay then, that's for another time. If there is to be a yet still another parking lot, then at least one could do some things right, (or rather, less wrong) and some things wrong. In this case, they -given the available options- did a lot of things right. I'm gonna focus on those. I won't be able to help myself though, I'm gonna pick on it, because I really don't like parking lots.

The Parking Lot.

There is no one here, just me, and yet the lights are still on. They are LED lights, but I don't get why they are on if no one is around. LEDs come up pretty fast, I'd think they could run them at half or quarter load with motion or IR sensors or something to bring them up when needed. But hey, at least they did this instead of that horrible mercury oxide lighting that has killed the night for so much of the US.

Update: I rolled by this place in the wee hours this AM, and the lights were off. So I guess they are timed. So, not as grim as I thought. Cool.

One of the lighting modules. (pic is kinda fuzzy, so no large image is available).

I was there in the deep of night, but the images didn't really show much, so I waited until early pre-dawn to take these so you could get a sense of what it's like.

This is a park and ride parking lot. This is in a declining rural area. Very little of the land that was once being farmed is still being farmed. The development pressure is still on in the greater Washington DC area. Those of you who live in the rest of the US might think that economy has stalled and is contracting. But you'd never know it in the area around Washington DC. That all by itself tells you a lot of what you need to know if you still think politics can fix things. Anyway, in order to help mitigate some of the effects of ever upwards spiraling growth, this region is doing some things to encourage more mass transit/public transportation to try to alleviate the ever worsening traffic congestion in this completely car commuter dependent region.

Wait'n On The Bus.

This seems like a good idea, get folks to drive here, park, and hop on the bus, taking all those cars (SUV's and Pickup's actually) out of competition for queuing up at red lights. However, every SUV driver you turn into a rider, creates a gap, which is always filled. It's the nature of traffic. You can read all about this very well studied phenomena elsewhere The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion, but that doesn't mean that offering alternatives is a waste of time, it's not. it's incredibly important. If folks want to opt-out, they must have alternatives.

I think there's an aspect here, this is a pretty cool place. Of course, it's new, it's clean, it's not broken yet, and seems like a good space. I expect it's pretty peaceful in the AM, and these shelters appear perfectly adequate. And, they don't use much energy.

Handicap Parking Done Right!

Look at that! The handicap parking area is right where it should be. Right next to the target service. Not across a traffic lane, like in nearly all parking lots built in the last 30 years. And! (this is a big and) No Ramp. Look, there is no curb, so you don't need a ramp. I personally despise curbs, they are a cheap and nasty way handle things. and they exist where there is no need. Here, no curb is needed, so no curb is built. Good design.

But what's that down at the end?

A ChargePoint Electric Vehicle Charging Station.

Actually, this facility has a few of these:

Pretty neat, eh?

Let's see, what else?


You could be forgiven for thinking this was a generator housing or some other box belonging to the utility or something. But no, It's a bicycle box. A nice weatherproof shelter for storing a bicycle.

And this is the bike rack. Now, I know it looks like something to keep cars from running into that transformer/generator/utility box, but no, it's a bike rack. and that's not a utility box.

Now, this whole parking lot can be approached from the east, or from the west, on a narrow, no shoulder country road. how are the bicycles and pedestrians supposed to get here in the first place. The main bicycling corridor, the WO&D rail trail is on the OTHER side of the divided 4 lane that is the boundary to the back of this property. There is no way to get here from there, without a few miles of sprinting down a sketchy road.

So, there are 24 of these assemblies, each with 2 what I'm guesstimating as being 240 watt PV panels, a pair of Enphase grid tie power inverters, and 1 or 2 of those street lights.

So, that's 11.5KW of solar power. The latitude of the site according to my GPS is 37 plus. Let's call it 40 for quick and dirty numbers. According to my hand held inclinometer, the panels are pitched at 50 degrees. So, that's lat +10 or so. According to the NREL redbook numbers, this system should output about 13.5MWH (thousand kilowatt hours)per year, not too shabby! however, *if* the array was tilted at 40 degrees (tilt=lat, pretty common) that would go up to 14.4MWH, pretty significant.

Okay, so this is all actually pretty cool, in a geeky sort of way. The kind of thing I should just love, right?

Well, sadly, I'm sorry to report, no.

What's wrong with it? Well, it's A Parking Lot. Yet Still Another Parking Lot. I don't like parking lots.

It's another asphalt slab. It'll be sanded/salted in the winter, it creates another heat island, it's impervious to water, so the water will run off, (is running off) creating the need for yet still another mosquito pit:

Of course, the landscaping isn't complete, so some erosion is to be expected. But I imagine this will be another exercise in futility. They'll get a handle on it, then a big (no one expected) weather event will cut a channel, then it will be remediated, then a channel, and so on.

So, anyway, in summary;

The folks in northern Va/Loudoun County have invested in an interesting experiment. I'm hoping that this is studied and mimicked and lessons are learned. So, good on'em for going this route. I just really hope next time someone decides; "Oh! I've got an idea, let's build a parking lot to overcome the need for more car infrastructure" that someone will point out that accommodating more cars just accommodates more cars. I think converting farm land into asphalt is a great big step in the wrong direction, and will ultimately have to be reversed.

The automobile has not merely taken over the street, it has dissolved the living tissue of the city. Its appetite for space is absolutely insatiable; moving and parked, it devours urban land, leaving the buildings as mere islands of habitable space in a sea of dangerous and ugly traffic. ~James Marston Fitch, New York Times, 1 May 1960


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