Solar awnings could charge your car while you shop

As more consumers, fleet owners, and manufacturers commit to electric vehicles, greater attention is being paid to ensuring enough EV charging infrastructure is in place. A Michigan Technological University professor says there is a big untapped charging opportunity: installing solar awnings in retail parking lots. The idea would be especially beneficial at big box stores because of the amount of land their parking lots cover.

  • The study shows solar awnings at a single Walmart Supercenter could generate 3.1 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 100 EV charging stations.
  • If the awnings were deployed at Walmarts across the country, they could power EVs for 90% of Americans who live within 15 miles of a Walmart. That would make EV charging about as prevalent as the current corner gas station network.
  • The solar awnings also would provide shade and shelter from inclement weather.

The study suggests retailers would benefit from this concept as well. For example, researchers suggest the solar electricity could be generated at a profit. Businesses that jump on the idea early would have a competitive advantage and stand to gain the most, considering how few EV and hybrid vehicle recharging options exist at retail sites.

“Retailers have an opportunity to leverage the stranded asset of their parking lots for profit from preferential store selection by the growing army of EV owners,” said Joshua Pearce, Michigan Tech professor and author of the study, in a news release. “Fast-moving retailers that make the investment in solar canopies and EV charging stations will attract early EV adopters and reap the most profit.”

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