New French law will require parking lots to install solar panels

It's an attempt to catch up in renewables compared to other EU nations.

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

In 2020, France was the only EU nation not to meet its obligations for the development of renewable energy, as it still relies primarily on nuclear power. Now, the French Senate has approved a bill that should increase that markedly, requiring parking lots with a minimum of 80 spaces to be covered by solar panels, according to Public Senat.

Parking lots with between 80-400 spaces will have five years starting in July 2023 to be in compliance. Any larger lots will have less time, only three years from the same date. In all cases, at least half the area of the parking lot must be covered with solar panels. The government says the plan, aimed primarily at parking lots off freeways and major routes, could generate up to 11 gigawatts — the equivalent of 10 nuclear reactors.

There are some notable exceptions. When outdoor parking lots have"technical, safety, architectural, heritage and environmental constraints," they may be exempt. Lots shaded by trees over at least half their area may also escape the requirement, as will parking lots for trucks. Finally, when the installation of panels "cannot be met under economically acceptable conditions" (something that could cover a wide range of scenarios), they can also be excluded.

On top of the solar parking lots, the government is looking at building large solar farms on vacant land next to highways, railroad tracks and agricultural areas. National railway operator SNCF also plans to install over a million square meters of solar panels by 2030, in an effort to reduce energy purchases by a quarter.

It's not clear how parking lot operators will pay for these installations, or how much financial aid the government will provide. Still, it looks like a good use of parking lots, as it will provide shade for cars and change what is usually an eyesore into a... more environmentally friendly eyesore.

Parking lots covered with solar panels are not yet that common, with one of the largest examples being the Belgium Zoo parking lot pictured above. Its 7,000 parking spaces are 70 percent covered by 62,000 overhead solar panels that generate 20 megawatts of peak power — much more than is required for the zoo. Disneyland Paris is also building a 17 megawatt solar parking lot that's now deployed and over halfway completed.

Early this year, President Emmanuel Macron set an objective to increase of solar energy production tenfold to over 100GW and build 50 offshore wind farms to add a further 40GW. France currently generates 25 percent of its electricity with renewables, less than its European neighbors. It has also seen delays on repairs to nuclear power plants, causing state electricity company EDF to reduce predicted output — exacerbating energy supply issues caused by the war in Ukraine.

Update Nov 9 5:55 PM ET: Reference added for Disneyland Paris solar parking lot. Thanks, Matt!