“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” lamented Joni Mitchell in her 1970 hit “Big Yellow Taxi.” An anthem dedicated to appreciating nature before it's gone, the words are as relevant 50 years later as when they were first sung. With much of the world very dependent on cars, parking lots fill landscapes around the world. The dark pavement absorbs the Sun's rays, creating heat islands which trap heat in urban areas. As long as the world has as many cars, we will have parking lots. However, a new French law is aiming to harness these hot spots by mandating large lots have solar panel rooftops.
The law, which just passed the French Senate, is part of President Macron's initiative to vastly expand France's wind and solar energy supply. As of July 1, 2023, lots with between 80 and 400 spaces have five years to add solar panels as “roofs” over the parking spaces. Lots with more than 400 spaces must be covered in solar panels within three years. At least 50% of the surface of these large lots must be covered. The largest parking lots in transit and shopping areas will produce the most energy, while historic areas and lots for tall trucks are exempt from the new initiative.
The parking lot panels are expected to generate up to 11 gigawatts of energy. This is equivalent to the power of 10 nuclear reactors. The government is also considering installing solar panels in other unused or creative spaces. SNCF—the French railroad system—plans to load their stations with panels, too. By 2050, the government plans to implemenet 50 new wind farms to further power the nation. While installing solar panels might be a big task—and many of the details are yet to be hammered out—surely this is a step to make Joni Mitchell and any environmentalist smile.
A new French law will require all parking lots for 80 or more cars to have solar panels above the parking spaces.