The San Diego Zoo is among the most popular attractions in California thanks to more than 3,700 intriguing animals and favorable weather. This zoo acts as an educational resource for tourists and local residents alike interested in nature. Administrators at the San Diego Zoo are hoping that the addition of a solar panel canopy and electric vehicle chargers will educate visitors about sustainability. The newly installed EV charging canopy located in the zoo parking lot is part of the Solar-to-EV Project promoted by San Diego Gas & Electric. The City of San Diego, General Electric, CleanTECH San Diego and the University of California-San Diego contributed significant resources to create this project.
A large canopy spanning 50 parking spots uses 10 solar panels to soak in power from the sun. This canopy connects to five EV chargers available to park visitors with BLINK network memberships. The solar canopy can convert sunshine into 90 kW of electric power available for charging. Designers incorporated a 100 kW storage system to hold excess power for later use.
The Solar-to-EV Project at the San Diego Zoo is part of the Sustainable Communities Program created by San Diego Gas & Electric. This program provides incentives for public and private partners that commit to cleaner sources of energy. These incentives include marketing partnerships that promote participating organizations as well as financial offsets for equipment costs. San Diego Gas & Electric currently coordinates with partners like the Energy Innovation Center, Del Sure Elementary School and Amylin Pharmaceuticals. The San Diego Zoo and neighboring Balboa Park provide a bigger splash for the utility that could attract greater attention for the program.
San Diego and surrounding communities provide an ideal laboratory for solar generation projects thanks to the climate. The NOAA Climate Data Center notes that the city of San Diego has sunny days 68% of the year including 146 days without any cloud cover. The Solar-to-EV Project at the San Diego Zoo writ large could harness an inexpensive and reliable natural resource. Residents of San Diego also rely heavily on their cars for daily commutes, compounding the environmental and economic benefits of solar power. The Sustainable Communities Program could use heavily traveled attractions like the Zoo to familiarize a broader spectrum of consumers with solar panels as well as EV chargers.
The City of San Diego is already among the leading communities in the United States in terms of EV infrastructure investment. The EV Project operated by ECOtality notes 21 charging stations at San Diego attractions like the Botanical Garden and San Diego State University. The San Diego Regional Clean Cities Coalition works with the U.S. Department of Energy to significantly reduce fossil fuel use in the region. A proliferation of clean energy projects in Southern California comes from favorable public attitudes and ample wealth for vehicle adoption. The Solar-to-EV Project should be successful in San Diego but the challenge is multiplying this project throughout the world.