The Sun Over the Parking Lot

There’s not
a lot of magic in level concrete. Considering that the parking lot often serves as
the launching point to the theme parks, it is only grudgingly that we
accept it as such. It also serves as a stark reminder of reality. Guests visiting Disney’s conservation-themed Animal Kingdom, for instance, first wade through
acres and acres of harsh concrete before entering the lush vegetation of the
aptly named Oasis.

There is
also not a lot you can do with a parking lot. The basic idea of a parking lot
is to efficiently cram as many cars as possible in the smallest space possible.
Adding unnecessary architectural clutter only serves to increase the travel
time for guests. Parking lots end up being hot, harsh monuments to modern

It is with
this in mind that I feel Disney can greatly improve their parking lots.The
idea that I am suggesting not only provides protection from the rain and the
sun, but also allows Disney to save a little money in the end.

My idea is
simply to cover the parking lots in solar panels. This is not a radical idea as
many places have already done so (on a smaller scale). Solar panels not only
provide power, but they also provide shade and protection from rain and heat.
Their necessary disjointed structure (for tilt for maximum sun exposure) allows
for natural lighting which can be further amplified if need be.

energy is a clean form of energy that has very little maintenance cost.
Considering that many of the parking lots were constructed by demolishing acres
of trees, it is fitting that their replacement has a positive impact on nature.
Solar energy is also plentiful. While Florida is not the ideal place for solar panels, it is not a horrible location either
with approximately 5 kWh/m2/d of solar radiation.

The logical
place to begin would be with Epcot’s parking lot. With about 100 acres
available, a large scale solar array could contribute immensely to local energy
needs. Thematically, a solar panel covered parking lot also stresses Disney’s
dedication to technology for a better tomorrow. Also, what could better serve
as a first introduction to Epcot then a futuristic solar panel covered parking

There are
some disadvantages to this idea however. While solar panels have been
decreasing steadily in cost, they are still relatively expensive, costing as
much as $2.5 million per acre (not including structural costs associated with
building them high enough for cars to pass under). The savings might not be
realized until up to 10 years after their installation.

But when
all is said and done, a solar panel covered parking just seems like the right
thing to do. Compared to the current uninspired parking lots, it is definitely
a way to keep moving forward.

12 thoughts on “The Sun Over the Parking Lot”

  1. Great idea. I love the idea of solar energy. Are the cars at Universe of Energy/Ellen’s Energy Adventure still running on solar power?

  2. Sounds like a fantastic idea! With all of the parking space at WDW, it would certainly offset some of their energy costs.

  3. great idea except for one thing.

    one good hurricane the size of Andrew or even a decent-sized tornado and there will be glass and (perhaps toxic) solar panel material *everywhere*. if it blows into the AK park?


    lets just say it’ll be closed for months while they clean up every last piece of glass they can, and it will blow small glass badly enough that even the pens backstage won’t be safe enough.

    the mirrors for a typical solar power farm are simply too fragile unless you can create an organized (re: expensive) mechanism for withdrawing them in the event of a major storm.

    i hate playing the skeptic, but…

    1. Bury coiled pipes in the parking lot, pump coolant through them and collect the monumental heat from the asphalt and use it to run an ADsorption chiller to provide FREE air-air conditioning. Disney won’t need to worry about digging them up with a snow plow either.

      Parking lot heat is ALMOST IN PHASE with peak demand energy loads too. If it works there then try that with desert sand.

  4. Solar panels can be made hurricane proof. A good number of Florida residents already use solar panels without problem. Even Disney uses solar panels on Universe of Energy already. In fact, in case of a hurricane hitting, solar panels are actually a preferred source of energy if power goes down. Power lines are a lot more vulnerable than solar panels.

    A solar panel flush with a strong hurricane proof base has a very little chance of being damaged in a storm. True, hurricane proofing adds to costs, but that is to be expected of any structure in Florida.

  5. thanks for the follow up. i’d forgotten ’bout Universe of Energy’s panels.

    One difference between the typical florida solar panel (where its mounted on the rooftop, this includes Energy) and the parking lot option is that there’s nothing below it, so its getting updrafts that a building-mounted one doesn’t causing additional stresses on the mounting platform. a house’s panel may survive the storm, but only if the house does. This middle-of-nowhere parking lot option is different.

    in addition, the shattering of a panel isn’t necessarilly due to the hurricane wind itself so much as the ton of junk (like, say, an automobile) that hits them – again, in building mounts the house would go first, so nobody notices the panels are gone as well.

    it’s easy to create a window that won’t break in 100mph winds. its another thing to create a window that will hold up against a major league pitcher’s fastball. :)

    i’ve seen far too many tornados in my lifetime, including ones carried by hurricanes as far inland as the virginia side of DC (Ivan, about 2 years ago, did exactly that, right up rt 28 and a mile away from my house – my wife saw one bounce on top of a dulles airport parking garage), to not be concerned about that much glass in such an open space, waiting for the right pick up truck or lamp post or dying tree (the roads to the parking lots are full of them, most from previous storms) to just whack a few of them down.

    of course, similar threats to the fragile and strengthened glass is part of most of the Epcot environment and they’ve survived thus far…

  6. A good “first step” might be to start putting solar panels up on the shaded waiting areas for the bus and parking trams. (Maybe ad some extra ones out in the lots). Use the power to run the cooling pumps on the water foutains or charge batters for the lamps to be used when it gets dark.

    If all goes well, expand! Put up shaded areas further out so that people are less likely to try to cram or overcrowd the prime spots near the park entrance.

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