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San Diego Zoo’s Solar-Powered Parking Lot Opens

A facility that will use solar energy to charge plug-in electric vehicles and feed the electrical grid has opened in the San Diego Zoo's parking lot.

Mayor Jerry Sanders pulled up in an electric car to a car-charging station that sat in the shadow of a solar canopy in the San Diego Zoo parking lot. His appearance was part of a well-planned opening ceremony.

Photo by Monaliza Noor

Solar energy canopies in the parking lot of the San Diego Zoo charge cars and feed an innovative new power station.

But this was about more than just a few new charging stations to serve San Diego’s fleet of electric cars. It was about the creation of a small solar power plant in the zoo parking lot.

The San Diego Zoo opened five new electric car-charging stations. It also took a look into the future of how solar energy can be used and stored.

Jim Avery of SDG&E said the zoo’s array of solar panels can produce 90 kilowatts, enough to power 18 homes.

“Now what really makes it unique is what we’ve added on top of that,” he said. “That’s battery storage as well.”

The solar power will be stored in two large batteries located in a small building on the edge of the parking lot. When the batteries are full, the excess power goes to charge cars or feed the electrical grid.

“So we can take power from the solar canopy and take it into the grid,” said Avery. “We can put it into cars. We can put it into energy storage. And at the same time we can take the energy storage back to support the grid.”

Storage of solar energy is a huge issue because the sun doesn’t always shine. The 100-kilowatt storage system at the zoo means when the sun goes down, its power can still be used to charge cars or power someone’s house by feeding the grid.

John Holmes, a technology adviser for SDG&E, said the batteries are state of the art, and they use advanced lithium polymer technology. He called the zoo-based plant an “energy hub.”

Byron Washom directs energy strategies for UC San Diego. He said the university plans to build a small solar energy plant, just like they have at the zoo.

“This is where the world will be watching to see how well this system operates,” he said.

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