In August 2021, a TikTok video went viral that claimed parking in Belgium is free because the country's solar-powered parking meters never work due to a lack of sunlight in the area:
This claim doesn't appear to be true.
Belgium does have some solar parking meters, but the country also has sunlight. We've seen no credible reports about these solar-powered meters becoming frequently unusable due to a lack of sunlight.
For starters, let's make a general note about solar-powered items. A solar-powered product, such as a parking meter, does not immediately stop working when the sun is hidden behind a cloud. In fact, solar panels will continue to charge (albeit at a lower efficiency) on cloudy days. Solar-powered items also tend to store energy in batteries so that they can continue to operate on cloudy days or during the night.
Solar radiation, or the electromagnetic energy emitted by the sun, can be captured and converted into useful forms of energy such as heat and electricity. Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on Earth. According to the Department of Energy, the amount of sunlight that strikes Earth's surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the entire world's energy consumption for a full year. Individual residences and businesses alike use solar panels to provide some or all of their energy needs. Utilities are also building solar plants to provide cleaner energy to their customers.
Clouds play a key role in the transfer of energy through the atmosphere. Therefore, clouds affect the output of ground-based solar power generation systems. The amount of power these systems can produce is dependent on the level of light they receive, both directly from the sun and via light reflected from all parts of the sky in the hemisphere above.
We haven't been able to find much specific information about how many solar-powered parking meters are in use in Belgium. These green energy meters have been in use in Brussels, the country's capital, since at least 2010. In 2020, the company IEM equipped the city of Antwerp, Belgium, with 960 solar-powered parking meters.
A spokesperson for the city of Brussels told us that the claims in this video are false:
At the City of Brussels, the solar powered parking meters works all the time as they all have 2 batteries included while there is not enough power created by the sun. All the parking meters are also connected to a central which can tell when the batteries are almost empty. What she says in the video is so false.
Here's a video about the solar powered parking meters that were installed by IEM:
We reached out to the company and will update this article article if more information becomes available.
It's also worth noting that while Belgium may not be the sunniest place in the world (that would be Yuma, Arizona, U.S.A.), it's also not the gloomiest. In fact, the day after the above-displayed TikTok video went viral, racking up more than 11 million views in 24 hours, Shauna Dewit posted a follow-up video informing everyone that she had found the sun:
It should also be noted that Belgium is not the only country to use such meters, and they aren't the only country to see people worry about the parking meters being unusable during cloudy weather. When similar solar-powered devices were installed in Washington, D.C., in 2010, WAMU reported:
But because each meter is solar powered, would it … maybe…possibly…stop working when it’s cloudy or snowing?
“No! You might like it but we definitely wouldn’t,” says [Gabe Klein, head of the District’s Department of Transportation].
Klein says there’s enough light even on a cloudy day to charge the batteries. Cash or credit, you’ll still have to pay.
In short, we have not seen any credible reports about Belgium's solar-powered parking meters being rendered useless because of a lack of sunlight. As this country has been using these devices for at least 10 years, and as they have recently installed close to a thousand more, it seems reasonable to assume that the these parking meters work.