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MSU taps parking lots for renewable energy and big savings

Courtesy of Wolfgang Bauer
MSU is covering parking spaces with solar panels to provide shade, reduce emissions, and save money. Pictured is about 10% of the project during early construction in June.

The Next Idea

Think about a hot August day. Your car has been sitting out in a parking lot for hours and hours. Think of how hot it is when you get back inside and touch that steering wheel.

What if you could take all of that solar energy and use it for something besides burning your hands?

That’s exactly what’s happening at Michigan State University. By putting solar panels over around 5,000 parking spaces, the university will generate power and provide shade or snow protection for parked cars.

Wolfgang Bauer joined Stateside today to explain the project. He’s a professor of physics at MSU and a senior consultant with the Office of the Executive Vice President.

"The main motivation is to build these solar arrays and preserve land that could be otherwise used for agricultural purposes," Bauer said.

By the end of the calendar year, Bauer said the university will have solar panels on top of around 5,000 parking spaces on campus. 

Electricity harvested from this project will be cheaper than the electricity the university could otherwise buy off the grid, Bauer said. In fact, he said the university will save about $10 million throughout the solar panels' 25-year lifespan as a result of the project.

“And this can be replicated at malls, schools – everywhere,” he said. “What we’re showing is that solar technology has progressed far enough that it can be used up in the northern part of the country, where we live in Michigan. And it can be used to economic benefit.”

He said the university believes “sustainability” means both reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and financial costs.

Listen below for the full conversation.

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