Energy at shopping malls and sport stadiums

 By Andrew Burger

¨They paved paradise and put up a parking lot¨ – Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, 1970, ¨Big Yellow Taxi¨

Looking out across a sprawling shopping mall parking lot packed with vehicles baking under a hot summer sun, you might wonder why they aren’t covered with solar canopies. Not only would they produce clean, emissions-free electricity, they would shield shoppers and employees from rain, snow and other inclement weather, as well as summer heat and glaring sunlight. Developed in the late 1950s, shopping malls have grown larger and larger, and more elaborate, since. Now found in cities and suburban areas the world over, shopping malls are commercial cultural icons, symbols of modernity and global urban and suburban lifestyles and culture…

(Cover photo by

According to Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) principal and renewable energy-built environment expert Joseph Goodman, parking facilities, such as those surrounding shopping malls and sports stadiums, have the greatest unrealized zero-emissions energy potential in cities and urban areas.

Shopping Malls: A Brief Overview of a Long History

Precursors of the modern, climate-controlled mall, shopping arcades and centers were built in Paris (Marché des Enfants Rouge, 1628), Oxford, England (Oxford Covered Market, 1774) and St. Petersburg (Gostiny Dvor, 1785). Still bustling today, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar was originally built in the 15th century.

Dating back to the 13th century, the U.K.’s Chester Rows may be the oldest continuously occupied ¨shopping mall¨ in the world. Different rows specialized in different goods, such as ¨Bakers Row.” Built to cater to an automobile-owning public, shopping malls invariably devote a large amount of land to provide parking space.

All that paved, open space makes shopping malls prime prospects for PV solar canopies. Such initiatives could lead to more ambitious on-site clean energy projects that might include battery-based energy storage systems (BESS) and EV (electric vehicle) charging stations, leading to creation of solar-powered mini- or microgrids.

In addition to reliable, emissions-free electricity and weather protection, these on-site renewable energy systems can yield substantial cost savings and new revenue streams for shopping mall owners, as well as prove beneficial by attracting more retail shops and shoppers.

However, shopping mall developers and owners have been slow to recognize the value and multiple benefits the latest generation of renewable energy and cleantech technologies offer. Shopping malls aren’t the only large public venues with large parking lots ripe for solar project development.

Solar Sports Stadiums

Sports arenas are sources of civic pride throughout Europe and the U.S. They serve as magnets for residents and businesses and galvanize a sense of community identity and belonging.

A growing number of sports stadium and team owners in the U.S. are contributing to the nationwide clean energy drive. That includes those in Atlanta, Georgia, where RBI Solar teamed up with Quest Renewables to complete construction of a solar PV canopy system at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium, home of the American football Atlanta Falcons.

Created to bridge the gap between R&D conducted at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), Quest Renewables specializes in commercializing and installing customized, leading-edge PV solar racking and mounting solutions that have reduced the time, effort and cost of installing PV solar energy systems at landmark venues.

A growing number of sports stadium and team owners in the U.S. are contributing to the nationwide clean energy drive

A Quest to Drive Solar Energy Costs Lower

Leveraging initial seed capital from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative and other sources, Quest continues to develop and refine GTRI technology.

¨Our latest solar PV system, the QuadPod Canopy, is purpose-built and designed specifically for parking lots and decks. We’re increasing safety by assembling the entire truss on-site, on the ground, which also reduces the time required to complete installations,¨ Wyatt Roscoe, who leads Quest’s R&D and project development efforts, explained in an interview. ¨

Quest and other U.S. solar industry participants have seen the cost of solar panels drop 30 percent in just the last three to six months, Roscoe told Eniday. ¨We’re seeing developers revisiting projects that weren’t considered feasible before and are now economically viable. We’re in the process of rebidding projects ourselves.¨

As a result, reducing the cost of solar mounting and racking takes on greater importance. ¨We believe we have a path to further improve the economics of solar energy in these, as well as other, market niches.¨

¨We’re looking into covering water treatment facilities, which are large consumers of electricity, and we’re in discussions with large, ‘big box’ retail store owners to demonstrate the feasibility of covering their parking lots with solar,” Roscoe added.

SEE MORE: Building self sufficiency by Nicholas Newman


about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.