GE Solar Park
It's the green ideal: Charging an electric car or plug-in hybrid using electricity generated purely from the sun.
But it's not fiction; a handful of large, multi-space solar carports are popping up in areas as diverse as Silicon Valley, New York City, Detroit, and Tennessee.
The latest one, unveiled last week, sits outside the headquarters of GE Energy in Plainville, Connecticut.
It's a long V-shaped shelter with 40 parking space, six electric vehicle charging stations (made by GE, of course), and 425 solar panels on top. Theoretically, the facility could produce enough energy to power 20 homes or enough to charge 13 vehicles over the course of a day.
When the park's Level 2 (220-volt) charging stations aren't in use, the extra energy goes back into the city's electrical grid and powers the overhead lights.
2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with roof solar panels visible; photo by George Parrott
A prototype Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, loaned to Consumer Search, is shown above charging at the new solar carport.
With the car plugged into the 220-Volt station at the carport, it only took an hour-and-a-half to fully charge its 4.2-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, whereas a 110-Volt home plug takes about 3 hours.
Unfortunately, GE has no plans to market a smaller home version of their car park. But GE's residential charger for electric vehicles, the WattStation, is due later this year. It can be plugged into 220-Volt home outlets just like a clothes dryer or any 220-Volt appliance. Price and retail partners haven't been announced yet.
Other solar carports can be found at the Nissan plant in Tennessee, on a waterfront in New York, and in Silicon Valley at Google's headquarters, courtesy of the search engine's RechargeIT Plug-in Hybrid Car Initiative.
At the Detroit-Hamtramck plant where GM builds the 2011 Chevy Volt range-extended electric car, it built its own solar lot even despite frequently overcast Michigan weather. Even the Air Force is getting into the act.