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Solar Carports in surface lots

MSU recently transformed 5 of their largest commuter lots into "solar carports," in an effort to shift towards more renewable energy use.

Photo of Angela Eick
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If we have to have surface lots, why not use solar panels to benefit both the people using the lot and the city? Last year, MSU along with Inovateus Solar, LLC, a solar-energy supplier in Indiana, and Alterra Power Corp., an independent power producer and renewable-energy developer in British Columbia, Canada, embarked on a partnership to transform five of their largest commuter lots into solar carports. The partnership allows MSU to purchase electricity produced from the solar arrays from Inovateus and Alterra at a fixed price for 25 years, and it's estimated that about 5% of the electricity used on campus annually will be produced through this project. Bonus - cars will be shielded from direct sunlight in the summer and from snow in the winter. 

I think Grand Rapids could benefit from the same approach - area lots (see attached map) could add these solar carports and the city could offset its electricity costs while investing in renewable energy. Our mayor is invested in fighting climate change, so there could be support among city leadership.


Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

The city would benefit financially and be able to promote our proactive and innovative efforts in renewable energy. People who park in the lots would benefit by their cars being shaded from the sun and shielded from the snow.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

N/A - I am simply interested in the City of Tomorrow challenge and wanted to submit an idea.

Size of your team or organization

  • I am submitting as an individual

Funding Request

  • $100,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

To be honest I have not really thought this part through. I am posting this idea on a whim the day before the submissions deadline! I tried to find out how much it would realistically cost to pilot this in one area lot in Grand Rapids, but can't find numbers in any of the articles I've read. I think we would need to reach out to MSU, Inovateus and Alterra to see if we could forge a partnership as they did. Then we would need to see if construction would be viable with the $100k (or less) funds. We would also need to consider how this impacts available parking spaces during construction. Would this make money? MSU is projected to save $10 million over 25 years. I guess the good thing about this idea is that it's already been proven to an extent.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Is Grand Rapids making money and headlines? Are motorists happy with the protection of their vehicles? Renewable energy efforts should make everyone feel successful, and if there are no plans to do away with these area lots, I believe we should at least maximize the benefit of them.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tom Bulten

Angela: Thanks for the unique proposal that builds on an existing project at Michigan State University. I'm one of the facilitators for the Grand Rapids Challenge. To Tyler Burke 's point: You might consider collaborating with Brad Ysseldyke who has proposed charging stations for electric vehicles:

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