That shiny roof over the neighborhood parking lot could be doing more than just protecting cars' paint from damage. In California, New Jersey, Florida, and other states around the U.S., companies are installing solar panels in public carports, turning the long, sunny days in some of these states into renewable energy that can be piped back into the electricity grid.
Northern California is a prime example of this phenomenon. Google, in Mountain View, was one of the early adopters, installing in 2006 solar panels atop its parking lots, with charging stations for electric cars.
In cities and towns across the San Francisco Bay area and the Central Valley, campuses of high schools and community colleges now sport the "solar trees." Not to be left out, Southern California has followed suit with systems installed in school parking lots and a target of saving millions of dollars by using the Sun's rays instead of energy having to be generated at a nearby power plant.
When it comes to dollars saved, residents of these towns now sporting "solar trees" are happy enough; however, the look and feel leave a bit to be desired for some people. In fact, people in one California town overwhelmingly rejected the solar panels because of "visual blight."
Still, the savings are clear enough: Every megawatt of electricity made from solar energy brings a bit of relief on the power plant and the city's bottom line, not to mention enough electricity from solar energy alone to power thousands of homes.
Japan has followed a similar course, although with an alternative form of transportation bicycles.
Two bicycle parking lots in Tokyo now sport solar panels atop the roof. The lots are along rail lines, and the bicycles are shared eneloop (power-assist) models. These bicycles run on batteries, and the solar-powered parking lots have battery charging stations that get their power entirely from the overhead panels.
The solar panels also power streetlights that shine on the parking lots.