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Tina Casey headshot

San Diego Zoo Gets Public All-Solar EV Charging Station

A huge chunk of the nation's electrical supply is still generated by coal-fired power plants, and that's something of a buzz kill for electric vehicle drivers. Taking the source of the electricity into account, EV driving is not necessarily the emission-free experience that it could be. However, that is rapidly changing. More solar, wind and other renewable energy is entering the nation's grid, and more EV drivers have access to solar power through their home charging stations.

Another key part of the equation, is access to public EV charging stations powered directly by alternative energy. There aren't too many around right now, but a look at the San Diego Zoo's new solar-powered EV charging station indicates that these present-day rarities could soon become commonplace both at civic institutions and throughout the private sector as well.

Parking lots and solar power

The common denominator between civic facilities and commercial properties is obvious to anyone who drives: parking lots. These vast, sprawling deserts of real estate typically go unused most of the time, namely after business hours and on weekends and holidays.

Even during working hours, many large-scale parking lots rarely, if ever, reach their full capacity. Solar canopies provide property owners with a way to extract additional value from this underused real estate, whether or not it is filled with cars.

A solar EV charger for the San Diego Zoo

The new solar EV charger is a project of the an organization called Smart City San Diego. Smart City's partners include San Diego Gas & Electric, the City of San Diego, GE, UC San Diego and CleanTECH San Diego.

The project consists of five charging stations powered by ten photovoltaic canopies totaling 90 kilowatts. One of the charging stations is dedicated to a nearby ADA parking space, and the canopies themselves add a bit to zoo visitor comfort by providing enough shade for about 50 cars.

In addition to powering the charging stations, the ten canopies generate enough electricity at peak capacity to power 59 homes. Some of that is stored in a 100-kilowatt battery system, and the rest goes into the grid.

The whole project is linked by educational tools both at the site and online, which dovetails with the Zoo's broader goal of encouraging "the application of sustainable design driven by science and the natural world."

Appealing to green consumers with solar EV chargers

Solar parking lots are becoming commonplace, but until now these have typically been used to power adjacent buildings or send electricity to the grid.

Public EV charging stations are also growing in number, so a direct solar connection can offer businesses a way to stand out from the crowd. The Zoo project also demonstrates that direct solar-powered EV charging stations can involve other attractions aside from the appeal to individual EV drivers.

As indicated by a recent report by the wind company, Vestas, consumers have embarked on a new level of sustainability awareness, in which there is a preference for products that are manufactured with renewable energy.  A similar trend may also be possible for retail stores and other businesses that power their operations with renewable energy.

For businesses that offer public access to EV charging stations, the direct solar connection enables them to avoid the buzz kill of grid-connected EV charging, making it a more effective promotional tool. As with the Zoo project, that can include numerous contacts with the public at the site of the project, as well as contact through website and social media tools.

[Image (cropped): San Diego Zoo by Lyndi&Jason, flickr]

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey


Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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