San Diego Zoo solar EV charger could be blueprint for future

San Diego Zoo installs innovative solar canopyThe new Solar-To-EV project at the San Diego Zoo is the first of its kind, but could be a blueprint for future projects.

Smart City San Diego, the City of San Diego and Clean Tech San Diego partnered to make the one-of-a-kind 90-kilowatt solar canopy in the parking lot shared by the zoo and Balboa Park happen.

The solar installation is different because it charges the electric vehicles plugged into its five charging stations directly, said Jennifer Jamal, communications director for CleanTECH San Diego. Most solar charging stations feed the energy into the electric grid and the cars that plug in at the stations draw power from the same grid the lady across the street uses to blow dry her hair.

“The thing that really makes this a first for San Diego is that it’s a closed system,” Jamal said. The power from the solar panels goes directly to the vehicles plugged in there. Excess power feeds a 100 kilowatt hour battery underground that discharges onto the grid when it’s full. That means the system can be islanded and will continue producing power and functioning even in a power outage.

Typically, solar panels shut down when there is a power outage so that electricians working on lines don’t have to worry about current shocking them. “We put in this kind of system as an experiment,” Jamal said.

There haven’t been many DC to DC solar installations in the country and this project serves as a demonstration that it can work. “We wanted to do something that hasn’t been done before that could be used as a blueprint for future projects,” Jamal said.

It’s not just a demonstration showing San Diego locals how solar innovation can work. It’s location makes it a demonstration piece for the world.

“More than 3.5 million visitors go to the San Diego Zoo every year, most of them from outside the region,” Jamal said. “This gives them an opportunity to see something different they might be able to adopt in their own communities.”

The charging station is different and cutting-edge, but it’s also fulfilling a basic infrastructure need in San Diego, Jamal said. There 2,000 electric vehicles on the roads in that metro area and experts predict there will be 200,000 by 2020. That means there will need to be infrastructure. Companies and the city are rolling out charging stations now. This model could be the future of some of that infrastructure.