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Solar and the Transportation Systems of the Future

Solar installations are growing more common on homes, offices and
industrial facilities. But they can play a role in the nation's
transportation infrastructure, too.
What will make solar - and other sources of clean energy - important to the transportation sector? It's simple: electric cars. Electric vehicles are poised to reach the market in the very near future - Chevrolet's Volt is slated to go on sale next month, as is Nissan's Leaf. And other auto manufacturers, like Ford and Toyota, are readying their own electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles for sale in 2011 or 2012.

Market-research firm J.D. Power & Associates expects 300,000 electric cars to be sold annually by 2015, and the CEO of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, thinks electric vehicles will represent 10 percent of the auto market by 2020. So there's little doubt that they will become a big part of the global transportation system.

Perhaps the biggest quandary about electric vehicles is the source of the electricity that powers them. Filling up an emissions-free car with energy produced by coal or oil, after all, moots some of the car's environmental benefits. But that's where solar power - which can be used to juice up electric vehicles - comes in.

Already, many organizations are putting solar panels in place over their parking lots. Lot-mounted solar arrays can shade parked cars and make use of underutilized space - and they can easily power electric-car charging stations, too.

Denver's International Airport is planning for an electric car future. The airport's brand-new parking structure has 16.9 kilowatts of solar panels, 9.6 kilowatts of wind turbines and 10 car charging stations. The stations are available free of use to airport visitors, the Denver Business Journal reports.

Benjamin Moore, the paint company, is also thinking ahead. The company recently installed 1.7 megawatts of solar panels over the parking lot at its Flanders, New Jersey campus, and it plans to put charging stations in place, as well.

It's not just electric cars that can be powered by the sun, though. Kyocera, the Japanese engineering company, announced November 17 that it had invented a solar-powered charging station for electric bicycles. The stations even have electric outlets - good news for people whose cell-phone or laptop batteries are running low.

Solar, it's clear, will have a role to play in the transportation system of the future. 
J.D. Power & Associates
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