One argument against covering as much area as possible with solar panels is that it doesn't do much for appearances. Legislation in France addresses that issue by calling for canopies of the panels to be installed over parking lots, where it's hard to worsen the aesthetics—it's not like a view of a rolling green field is being ruined. The measure was headed toward final passage Tuesday, a plan that could increase the nation's electrical capacity by 8%, the Washington Post reports. Under the law, all parking lots larger than about 16,000 square feet will have to have raised solar-panel canopies installed that cover at least half the area of the lot.
Generating power in bulk requires panels that cover much ground, and there's a lot of competition for that space in a place like France. "We live already in parts of the world where it’s pretty dense," said the head of a coalition of environmental organizations. "Human beings are everywhere." Advocates expect that when the sun is shining, the solar panels should produce enough power to run the businesses served by the parking lot, if not the surrounding community. And they'd be able to charge electric vehicles that pull into the lot.
Construction won't be cheap, but supporters say the new electricity—as much as 10 nuclear power plants generate—will more than pay for it. A similar plan in the US could generate even more power, because the nation has much more land devoted to parking than France does. The top end of estimated power generation in the US is 800 gigawatts, compared to France's middling projection of 11, per Time. An engineering professor at Western University in Ontario says putting solar panels on the roofs and parking lots of Walmart stores in the US would provide roughly as much power as France expects. (Read more France stories.)