Solar parking meters invade Los Angeles

The next time you pull up to a parking spot in Los Angeles, give the meter a once over.

It could be solar powered.

San Diego-based IPS Group Inc. this week said it has completed installing 10,000 of the new coin and credit-card parking meters throughout the city.

And they appear to be doing a good job. Company officials said Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and Council member Tom LaBonge have announced that the new meters have provided the city with a big boost in revenue -- an additional $230,000 in September. Officials believe the meters could generate an additional $2 million to $2.5 million in revenue annually.

Dave King, IPS president and CEO, said the cities of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Laguna Beach and Manhattan Beach are also installing the meters. In addition, he said Denver, Washington, D.C. and Eugene, Ore. are among the 45 cities in the United States and Canada that have installed IPS meters.

IPS officials said the Los Angeles is in a lease-to-own agreement with the company in the meter program. The meters communicate wirelessly with a centralized management system, enabling the approval of credit and debit cards.

The Portland, Ore. Office of Transportation, which installed its first solar meters in 2002 and upgraded six years later, attributed the increase in revenue -- estimated at 40 percent -- to the meters' ability to accommodate credit and debit cards. Officials said credit/debit cards account for 70 percent of transactions, "which greatly reduces coin collections, saving gas."

Ethan K. of reported that Boston is doing the same thing, saving money through credit card transactions. He reasoned that "emptying 8 million dollars worth of quarters a year can be a grueling task. That is about 32 million quarters a year."

However, Ethan K. also pointed out that "these parking meters will print out little receipts with a time stamp that would be placed on the car's windshield. So my question is, what happens to the receipts that are printed out? Where are those going? Most likely, they will get crumpled up and tossed to the ground."

Well, there's that.

Ethan K. also blogged that merchants where the solar parking meters were excited, and he said it showed added capabilities of solar power. "When people start to realize that solar power is capable of handling small tasks, we can start to change the way things are done. Solar energy may not power entire cities yet, but it sure can handle a credit card processing, parking meter."

I like his thought process. For instance, solar power in small doses could provide juice for quite a bit of tasks, relieving demand on the grid. One thing I just dreamed up is solar-powered remote charging stations for electric cars. That's a little bigger than a parking meter but no less cool.