Fri, Feb

Parking Lot's Photovoltaic 'Solar Trees' Offer Shade, Provide Power

Kyocera yesterday unveiled a demonstration project it hopes will help take parking lots to new places by including stylized solar arrays that shade cars while cleanly producing electricity.

Kyocera yesterday unveiled a demonstration project it hopes will help take parking lots to new places by including stylized solar arrays that shade cars while cleanly producing electricity.

The company's so-called Solar Grove is an array of modernistic stanchions -- "solar trees" in Kyocera's lingo -- supporting about 1,600 photovoltaic modules over an employee parking lot adjacent to its North American headquarters at Balboa Avenue and state Route 163.

Beyond providing 186 covered parking places and a small fraction of the energy the company uses at its headquarters, Kyocera is marketing Solar Groves as a part of an effort to double revenue this year from its solar energy products.

The diversified manufacturer of electronic components sought to enhance the appearance of the arrays by emphasizing a tree-like aspect, with each solar canopy supported by a single stanchion but shading six vehicles.

Kyocera declined to specify the cost of the new solar array, noting that the facility is a prototype. But the company said about 40 percent of the cost was covered by California rebates for solar projects and that it would benefit from federal and state tax credits.

All told, the company believes Solar Groves will prove attractive in the burgeoning solar market. "The economic viability of PV systems like this represents a milestone for businesses throughout California," said Steve Hill, president of Kyocera Solar Inc.

By avoiding the need to burn natural gas or other fossil fuels for the power it produces, Kyocera said the array will avoid the annual release of nearly 340,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, a suspected contributor to global warming, as well as hundreds of pounds of pollutants.

The new photovoltaic arrays are tilted slightly to maximize solar exposure and have a capacity of about 235 kilowatts, enough to power about 68 typical local homes. The company last year began manufacturing solar panels at a facility in Tijuana and hopes to double production this year.

According to the San Diego Regional Energy Office, the Kyocera solar array is the largest privately owned such installation in the county and the third largest overall, behind solar arrays at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and one built for the Navy on North Island.

Irene Stillings, executive director of the energy office, said the $5 million in solar rebates the office had for San Diego this year has already been exhausted.

"Activity (in solar) is enormous," Stillings said. The rebate funding available, she said, "is not enough."

The City of San Diego has also set a goal of 50 megawatts of renewable energy capacity -- from solar and other sources -- by 2013. For context, peak summertime demand for SDG&E hovers around 4,000 megawatts. (A megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.)

The county overall has about 12 megawatts of solar capacity now -- enough to power about 12,000 homes -- and another 8 megawatts in the pipeline. But Stillings noted that solar construction could soon run into a key limit, namely a cap on electricity that San Diego Gas & Electric is required to buy back from owners of solar arrays.

The buybacks are a key component in making solar power viable because photovoltaics produce surplus power during the hottest periods when power is most in demand by the local utility.

State Sen. Chris Kehoe, who attended yesterday's ribbon cutting at the Kyocera facility, is sponsoring a bill to raise the cap on buybacks.

Kyocera's Kearny Mesa facility manufactures ceramic packages for computer chips and is among the larger electricity consumers in the region.

To protect its manufacturing process, the company made the headquarters energy self-sufficient in the late 1980s, with the bulk of its power provided by a natural gas-fired generator supplemented by solar power, which provides about 2 percent of its electricity.

The new Solar Grove has allowed Kyocera to retire a smaller rooftop photovoltaic system, which was donated to a hospital in Mexico, according to a company spokesman.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News