Condo plan looks to sun

SouthPark could become home to the city's first fully eco-friendly mid-rise if one Charlotte man gets his way.

David Thompson has filed a rezoning request to build SolarPark, an 80-foot residential building that would run entirely on solar power and electricity. The building would sit on a 1-acre lot near Park and Sharon roads.

Residential buildings in the SouthPark area generally must be capped at 40 feet without city permission. A community meeting is scheduled for September, with a public hearing in October.

The pyramid-shaped SolarPark would employ extensive use of solar panels to collect energy from the sun. That energy would be used along with electricity to run appliances and heat the building's air and water.

Thompson, a SouthPark resident who runs maintenance and solar installation company Solar Energy Environments, said the building's interior layout and final cost haven't been finalized.

He said it would tentatively have parking on the first level, with condo units on the higher levels. The units would range from 2,500 to 9,000 square feet. A timeline has yet to be determined.

SolarPark would likely be one of the first building of its kind in the city. While solar power has been used in dozens of buildings across North Carolina, the state's database lists only a handful of residences that have employed the technology extensively. None are in Charlotte.

“With population growth and more demand on the power grid, we have to start asking ourselves where we're going to continue getting our energy from,” Thompson said.

The use of solar energy to power buildings has been around for decades, but has increased in popularity in recent years as more people look for ways to lessen their impact on the environment.

Architects and builders have increasingly turned to solar technologies because once the hardware is installed, the maintenance cost is significantly less other traditional sources of power such as gas.

For example, using solar power can reduce a home's winter heating costs by 80 percent and hot water needs by 60 percent, according to the N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State University.

As an added cost savings, the federal and N.C. state governments offer tax credits to homeowners and builders who install solar technologies. North Carolina's Renewable Energy Credit rebates 35 percent of the cost of installing a variety of solar systems. The federal credit is 30 percent.

Thompson said he hopes SolarPark will show Charlotte residents how much is possible when it comes to low-energy buildings, and inspire developers to take on similar projects. While developers are already using energy-efficient bulbs and heating and cooling systems in new buildings, Thompson feels more could be done.

“The thing about those buildings is, when the power goes out, then what?” he said. “A building like this is essentially its own power plant.”