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Solar Carports

Solar carports are often a great solution for a business or home with a desire to install solar panels and that may have limitations surrounding the availability of roof space. 

A solar carport is an elevated canopy structure specifically built for solar panels, with more clearance than a ground mount. They make sense in many applications as often times a business will use more energy than can be provided by solar panels on even the largest of roofs.  And sometimes, a residence will be in a situation where maybe the roof type isn’t the right material, there may be too much shade, or the roof is just generally not suited for solar. For example, Green Power Energy installed a solar carport for the Highland Park Municipal Building in 2012.  In the case of Highland Park, their main roof wasn’t ideal for solar.

The building had an electric demand of about 40,000 kWh annually, and the flat roof didn’t have enough space to handle a solar array of that size.

40,000 kWh might not sound like a ton of power, but compared to a residential solar project, it’s still about three times the size of an average solar installation.  Once you consider roof vents, HVAC units, and other miscellaneous roof obstructions, Highland Park’s main building was unfortunately, not qualified for solar. 

What Highland Park did have however, was a row of parking spots to the north of the building that had adequate solar access and that happened to be oriented at 160 degrees south.  This arrangement was close to perfect. The ideal orientation for solar projects in the northern hemisphere is 180 degrees south. Some parking lots can come closer to true south than others, but with a solar carport, the orientation is often even better than if the solar array was limited by the orientation of the roof.  Green Power Energy installed a 29.15 kW system for Highland Park, which was designed to offset their kWh demand on site, and was equipped with 119 solar panels. Being a government agency, it was important for Highland Park to use American-made solar panels.

Green Power Energy installed SolarWorld 245 watt solar modules, which, at the time, were among the best American-made solar panels available. 

The solar panels on the carport are oriented in a landscape orientation 7 panels wide and at a twenty degree pitch. This footprint is just enough to cover the length of one parking space.

In the US, the average parking space is actually pretty big.  It is an average of 16-18 feet long, and between 7.5-9 feet wide.  The average size of a parking space being 162 sq. feet. This is a lot of open space a solar array can cover without having to use any additional land.  Parking lots in America are notoriously overbuilt due to urban zoning ordinances and are often designed for a store’s need to provide sufficient parking for customers.  Often times, parking lots are designed for Black Friday crowds, and even then, never get filled up. When more than half of the footprint of a commercial lot is devoted to parking, it’s a lot of expensive, wasted space.  Solar carports provide the opportunity to utilize the space the business already has, and move the cost of having a parking lot from the liability column, into the asset column. 

In addition to making use of an often overlooked, and wasted space, carports also provide a means of protection from the elements to vehicles in the lot and the parking lot itself.  This can mean that a fleet of company cars doesn’t need to have snow removed in the morning before work, or experience unnecessary wear from the elements.

As a business considering solar carports, make sure to consider how snow may come off of the solar panels and if that is a concern for your business. 

You can have the solar installation company outfit the solar carport with a ledge or rack to help catch the snow. Another consideration is what type of parking lot it is and what type of vehicles will be using this space. Be sure to define the necessary clearance and whether or the carport footings may interfere with cars or trucks coming and going.  For example, if you are a grocery store or retail store, a solar canopy won’t work in the rear of the building where trucks will often be coming and going. 

A solar carport will require a larger upfront cost than a standard roof mount installation because of the cost to build the structure and the cost to trench the power back to the utility meter.  For commercial carports, the structure is generally steel and residentially it can be steel or sometimes even wood. Although it presents a larger upfront cost, the return on investment can often be worth it because since it is orientated perfectly, the efficiency goes way up, and in many scenarios a building reaching 100 solar offset is not possible without a solar carport. 

Efficiency and value are often even greater when with dualt tilt car ports.

Dual tilt simply means that the carport will cover two parking spaces long ways while taking advantage of the sun in both directions. This can make the available space even more valuable for solar production and get buildings even closer to 100% offset.

Green Power Energy offers solar carports to both our residential and commercial customers. Solar carports are generally considered a commercial installation, but can have functionality at the home as well.  Contact Green Power Energy with your energy usage and you can receive a free quote on solar and a solar quote with a free design included. Green Power Energy will be able to determine whether or not a solar carport is right for you and include a comprehensive financial analysis to make the case for your solar project. 

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