Solar Canopies: The Parking Lot Problem’s Best Solution



On Tuesday, April 23, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York Power Authority broke ground on a solar carport canopy at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Nearly 11 football fields’ worth of solar panels will cover parking lots at the airport once the project is completed in 2025, generating shade for the lots as well as clean energy. Only a few days earlier, on April 18, New York City Council passed Introduction 129-A, establishing a pilot program for parking lot solar canopies in city-controlled lots. 

Solar canopies have risen in popularity in recent years as solutions to two problems. First is the issue of urban heat islands, dense urban areas that are hotter than surrounding natural areas. The asphalt used in parking lots absorbs and radiates significant heat, contributing to urban heat island effect. In one instance, scientists in Japan measured the surface temperature of an asphalt parking lot at noon and found that the surface temperature was 66.2° hotter than the surface temperature of a nearby park. Solar canopies would provide shade to parking lots, thereby reducing the urban heat island effects of such large areas. 

The second problem is the land use requirements of solar fields. Typically, solar panels are set up in open spaces, especially sunny deserts, taking up hundreds, if not thousands, of acres. Areas such as New York City do not have the available land. The solution? Canopies, which can cover massive areas without interrupting other infrastructure. 

When finished, the JFK Airport solar canopy is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6,000 tons annually — the equivalent emissions output of about 1,400 cars driven for one year. The project is slated to be completed in 2025. 

The City Council’s vote on Int. 129-A establishes a pilot program for installing solar canopies and electric vehicle chargers in city-controlled parking lots. The bill, sponsored by Councilmember Justin Brannan, builds on previous legislation to expand electric vehicle infrastructure. 

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“My solar canopies bill will push our city to make new, inventive use of open spaces like parking lots in service of generating green energy. Electric cars will drive us to a sustainable future but we can’t expect drivers to make the switch from fossil fuel-powered to electric vehicles if our city is not built out to support them,” Brannan said in a press statement.

Under the bill, at least one solar canopy will be installed in each borough as part of the pilot. Going one step further, the bill also requires at least five electric vehicle chargers in each lot. The solar canopies will need to be installed within two years. At the end of the pilot, the City Council will review a report outlining the canopies's cost-effectiveness and recommendations on how to expand the program or make it permanent.

This is not the first solar project for the Port Authority: Newark Airport installed a parking lot solar canopy in 2023, and both a La Guardia Airport parking garage and a PATH warehouse are outfitted with rooftop solar panels. Two new terminals planned for JFK airport, both currently projected for 2026 openings, will also be outfitted with rooftop solar panels.  

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Michaela Keil
Michaela Keil
Michaela Keil is the Editor of Bluedot Living Brooklyn, and the Managing Editor, Special Projects, for the Brooklyn Eagle. When she's not writing, you can either find her outside — in the rain, shine, snow, or cold — or inside baking bread. Find her on twitter @mkeil16.
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