Not Made In The Shade: Can Solar And Trees Get Along?

He proposes “solar safe zones” on parcels, which would restrict “height on plant material to under 15 feet in a defined area (based on parcel and building orientation).” This doesn’t mean a property couldn’t have large trees, as well. As he writes in his paper, “Trees and Solar Power: Coexisiting in an Urban Forest Near You”: “a large tree to the west of a structure … has a smaller chance of shading a PV array on the average residential roof between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.”

solar vs. trees

image via Dan Staley

For neighborhoods, Staley proposes finely targeted restrictions. For instance: “based on the street direction, height of trees in the Right-Of-Way (ROW) is restricted on the north side of E-W running streets to a height based on the setback distance and dwelling roof height (taller trees in ROW in front of two-story, shorter in front of one-story).”

solar and trees

image via Dan Staley

Ultimately, the idea is for those who are designing the neighborhoods and commercial developments of the future to become mindful of an important new element to factor into the equation: Rooftops are more than just protection from the elements, they are potential power plants.

“The arboriculture industry is poised to partner with the solar industry to generate clean energy by contributing expertise when recommending best practices for policy and maintenance,” Staley writes. “The benefits of strategically increasing tree canopy in built environments – increased energy savings from shade, increased solar power generation, reduced stormwater peak flows, increased aesthetics and improved environmental health – far outweigh the costs and pay dividends many times over.”

4 Comments

  • Reply August 13, 2012

    Sara Stricker

    This is something I never thought about, even though I advocate solar energy. My town (Burlington, NJ) just installed a lot of solar panels to power the streetlights, which I thought was very innovative, but I had never considered that our many trees might block the panels. Thought-provoking and informative, thank you!

    • Reply August 13, 2012

      Pete

      Thanks for the note, Sara! New Jersey is a real solar leader. If you didn’t see it, you might be interested in this story about your governor:
      http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/08/njs-christie-a-rare-pro-solar-republican/ 

  • Reply August 22, 2012

    Liz Karschner

    Wow, what a great post! People do need to pay close attention to where they plant their trees to make sure they can cohabitate peacefully. I too am an advocate for solar, but also a tree lover too and don’t think it is always necessary to cut down the trees just to install solar. We have dealt with shading issues here at work as well, I even wrote a post about it:
    http://www.sepco-solarlighting.com/blog/bid/94029/Location-Location-Location-Why-Shading-is-Bad-for-Solar-Systems But as stated even in my post, solar power can be installed remotely in a more sunny location with the wires set underground to their final destination whether it is a home, building, or like with us, lighting.

    • Reply August 22, 2012

      Pete

      Thanks for your note, Liz. Your post is a nifty solution to consider in situations where shade complicates installation of rooftop solar! Since writing the story it occurs to me that another option for people to think about could be community solar. Our recent story on the new Xcel program in Colorado has really opened my eyes to that as a possibility. It’s not available everywhere, but should be encouraged and supported!
      Thanks for reading,
      Pete

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