There aren’t too many U.S. cities that enjoy more annual sunshine than San Diego. With all that bright, shiny weather, it’s no wonder the San Diego Zoo recently announced a project that will encourage visitors to drive electric vehicles instead of gas guzzlers. In collaboration with Smart City San Diego, the Zoo plans to install a solar canopy that will charge electric cars in the parking lot for free.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are slowly creeping into the American auto market. According to experts, one of the biggest roadblocks to widespread adoption is consumer fears about running out of power far from a charging station. While combustion engine cars can also run out of fuel, most drivers are fairly confident that there will always be a gas station near by. Of course, it took decades to build up this fueling infrastructure, and now, alternative fuel advocates say the same must be done for EVs.

The Zoo’s solar canopy is yet another step toward reducing range anxiety and encouraging EV drivers from all over the state to make the journey. The project, which broke ground September 4th, will incorporate 10 solar canopies producing 90 kilowatts (kW) of electricity, as well as five EV charging stations. When exposed to the bright sun of a normal San Diego day, energy gathered by the solar canopy will be channeled into a 100-kW energy storage system. When the battery is full, the excess solar energy will be put onto the electric grid to improve reliability and benefit the surrounding community. As an added bonus, the solar canopies also provide shade to approximately 50 cars in the Zoo’s southeast parking area.

Officials say that, when working at peak capacity, the solar canopy project will produce enough energy to power 59 homes. That’s like removing 189,216 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, or the same as planting 2,788 trees annually.

Photo: Example of a solar canopy in Las Vegas.
Credit: time_anchor/Flickr