MoCo wants to replace empty garage spaces with solar panels

Potential areas for solar panels on top of the Woodmont  Avenue Garage, via MCDOT Potential areas for solar panels on top of the Del Ray Avenue Garage,  via MCDOT

Montgomery County on Wednesday put out a request for proposals for companies interested in installing solar panels in empty parking spots on the top of 12 public garages.

The county’s Department of Transportation is looking for vendors to put the solar panels on four garages in downtown Bethesda, seven in Silver Spring and one in Wheaton. The concept would have those vendors sell energy generated by the solar panels back to the county to power the garages, and perhaps other structures.

MCDOT says the RFEP (the “E” is for energy) is part of the county’s efforts to meet its climate and clean energy goals. Proposals are due by Sept. 5.

Three of the four garages included in downtown Bethesda are known as home to entire levels of empty parking spaces, especially on the top floors of the structures.

Photo of unused parking spaces on top of the Old  Georgetown Road Garage, vis MCDOTThe six-floor Del Ray Avenue Parking Garage (4907 Del Ray Ave.) is so empty that the top floor is chained off. MCDOT estimates the top floor of the garage could fit enough solar panels to produce 757,355 killowatt hours annually. That would be enough to offset 66 percent of the energy used to power the garage each year.

Each garage presents its own set of challenges involving nearby buildings that would create shadows, elevation changes and HVAC units. The Del Ray Garage, for instance, has a large HVAC center at the center of the top floor that could cramp where solar panels would go.

A press release announcing the RFEP claimed it makes Montgomery County one of the “first major east coast urban jurisdictions to have solar generation on top of parking facilities.” The concept of solar panel canopies over parking spaces has been done, mostly in California.

MCDOT hopes to select its vendor early next year with a contract start date some time in the second quarter of 2015.

Other Bethesda garages included in the RFEP are the Woodmont Avenue Parking Garage (7730 Woodmont Ave.), the adjacent Old Georgetown Road Parking Garage (7661 Old Georgetown Rd.) and the popular St. Elmo Avenue Parking Garage (4935 St. Elmo Ave.).

The top  level of the St Elmo Avenue Garage, via MCDOTThe St. Elmo Avenue Garage sees more demand than the other three. It’s not uncommon for the garage to be completely full on weekend evenings. The RFEP didn’t include estimates for how much kWH could be produced from solar panels on top of that garage.

MCDOT said it intends to purchase all electricity generated by the systems on a per kilowatt basis. It also said excess power could be used to reduce electric bills for the underground garages owned by the county.

Photos via MCDOT

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