A Noble Mission to Turn Parking Lots into “Solar Groves”

12/9/08Follow @bvbigelow

Architect Bob Noble was the CEO of San Diego’s Tucker Sadler firm when Kyocera America asked if he would consider designing a “solar carport” for its San Diego headquarters, using photovoltaic solar panels made by Kyocera.

The request might have been a non-starter at any other venerable, 50-year-old firm. Solar carports, after all, have been done before. And Tucker Sadler is known for its work on major projects, such as the recent expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, the Christina Gateway master plan in Wilmington, DE, and the storefront, entry, and interiors for Barneys New York in New York City.

But Noble has long been a passionate advocate for sustainable design. When I first met him 15 years ago, he was the founding CEO of Gridcore International, a venture making fiberboard-like structural panels from shredded U.S. currency and recycled cardboard. So he jumped at Kyocera’s proposal.

“For me it was an exciting opportunity,” Noble says, rattling off his experience and credentials faster than I could write. I looked at him, exasperated, and he said, “Let’s just say I’m an eco-preneur.”

The result proved to be something of a revelation for Noble, who saw that parking lots represented an enormous opportunity for developing solar structures.

“Parking lots are big, hot, urban heat islands,” Noble says, working himself into another rapid-fire fusillade. “They’re bad for landscaping, bad for water drainage. They are the wasteland that you have to go through to get to a building.”

Instead, Noble argues that parking lots should be the giant canvas for integrating renewable energy technology with architecture and sustainable building design. He argues they are far better suited for solar arrays than the rooftops of commercial buildings, which are dominated by housings for mechanical equipment and worries about waterproof membranes. As a recently recruited San Diego Xconomist, Noble also will be making such argument on our forum.

Solar arrays like the “solar grove” that Noble created for Kyocera parking lot and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., generate … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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