Separate from the developments—predicable, infuriating, and downright messy—coming out of United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) underway in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the French government is generating its own headlines in the fight against climate change.
As reported by multiple outlets including the Guardian, new legislation approved by the Senate of the French Republic on November 4 requires the owners of large parking lots, existing and new, to cover their respective expanses of asphalt with solar panels. Per the new law, which takes effect in July 2023, “large” applies to parking lots with at least 80 spaces. The owners of parking lots with between 80 and 400 spaces will have five years to install the arrays. Meanwhile, lots with more than 400 spaces will have just three years to be transformed into multi-tasking, mini solar farms. As detailed by the Guardian, the owners of large lots are only mandated to cover half of the total surface area with vehicle-shading, renewable energy–generating equipment.
Initially, determination of which parking lots the law would apply to was based on their size per square meter and not by the number of spaces.
The solar parking lot law, a small but vital component of French President Emmanuel Macron’s larger plan to reduce emissions and curb climate change, is expected to result in the collective generation of 11 gigawatts of clean power. This output, as noted by Engadget, is roughly equivalent to the power produced by 10 nuclear reactors. Nuclear remains France’s predominant power source although the renewables sector is growing.
There are a few exemptions to the law as detailed by Public Senat. The owners of parking lots with ample tree coverage needn’t install solar arrays nor will the owners of lots dedicated to large trucks weighing over 7.5 metric tons. Parking lots located at “remarkable” sites, including protected heritage areas, are also except from the law in so that they are not “distorted.”
Solar arrays doubling as parking lot shade structures aren’t an entirely uncommon sight across France or elsewhere, including the United States. The just-passed bill, however, would make this practice law and give the country’s decarbonization ambition a much-needed push in the right direction. Other measures that merge solar production with transportation infrastructure currently on the table in France include a plan to build solar farms on vacant swaths of land alongside freeways and highways and a scheme led by national rail service SNCF to install sizable solar arrays atop more than 150 stations. (Meanwhile, a much-touted solar roadway project in Normandy failed to live up the hype.) Outside of PV-festooned roads and rail stations, multiple new offshore wind farms, the first of which opened this September, are also now in the works although not without pushback as France attempts to make headway in its famously sluggish embrace of offshore wind.