Solar Mitigates The Horror Of Ubiquitous Self-Storage

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We’ve got so much crap, we Americans do, that even our gigantic houses can’t fit it all. According to the Economist, one family in 10 has stuff in one of the country’s 50,000 self-storage facilities. And except for the rare old classic urban building that’s been converted to storage space, these places typically have all the cold, modular, fenced-off, soul-deadening charm of a prison.

So it was gratifying to see that a big self-storage company is putting its structures to some noble use, blanketing the roofs with solar panels.

extra space storage solar

An Extra Space Storage solar rooftop in New Jersey (image via Extra Space Storage)

The company is Extra Space Storage, which claims to be the No. 2 storage company in the U.S. (behind the ubiquitous Public Storage). Extra Space has apparently put in solar at 45 of its locations, and is in the process of doing 58 more.

This program came to our attention not from Extra Space Storage (which really ought to toot its own horn more), but from Solectria Renewables, which announced it is providing U.S.-manufactured inverters for the installations, and 1st Light Energy, which is the installer and integrator that picked Solectria. (Inverters? They’re the deelies that convert the direct current energy produced by the solar modules to alternating current for home use or the grid.)

According to those companies, the 103 Extra Space sites that will ultimately get solar are expected to produce 11.5 million kilowatt-hours of sun juice. (To put that in perspective, the average U.S. household uses about 11,500 kWh of electricity per year, ranging from 6,750/year in California to 16,700/year in Tennessee.)

As we noted when we tossed Ikea a big, pretty-smelling bouquet earlier this year, there are distinct advantages to going solar up on the rooftops versus pursuing the big utility-scale power plant model (not that we don’t need some of those, too). As the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said in a 2008 report [PDF], “By deploying photovoltaics on building rooftops, there is little to no cost associated with land, and the system is deployed at the point of use, which minimizes transmission and distribution requirements and losses.”

There’s also little to none of the conflict that often accompanies utility-scale renewable power development, be it solar or wind.

While Extra Space Storage didn’t issue the press release that caught our eye, in September the company did put up a long blog post that explained why and how it was going about installing so much solar power. It’s a good read, but in case you don’t feel like clicking over, we offer you this takeaway quote from the blog :

In each state where we have a solar presence, energy costs have played a role in the decision to install solar. With high energy costs and great incentives, it really wouldn’t make sense to not install solar. However, sometimes we go the solar route even when state incentives are lackluster or nonexistent. The reason is clear: the utility bill!

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.