The solar industry is expanding at an incredible rate across the country with more and more businesses switching to clean energy. While the underlying technology is the same throughout the many diverse solar applications, there are several variations in system design. The two most commonly-seen styles include ground-mounted systems and roof-mounted systems though a third option—the solar carport—is rapidly gaining adoption thanks to its efficient use of space and unique structures.
More and more frequently, business owners are investing in solar carports that cover parking lots and the tops of parking garages to generate some or all of the energy necessary to run their day-to-day operations. Many are curious about implementing one or more solar carports but don’t know enough to make the leap.
HOW ARE SOLAR CARPORTS DIFFERENT FROM A TYPICAL SOLAR SYSTEM?
The biggest difference between a solar carport and a more traditional solar system is the design structure. While a normal ground-mounted solar system may sit two or three feet off the ground on available land, a solar carport may be as high as 10 feet or more and include large metal racking. The benefit to this is the solar panels sit high enough off the ground to allow cars to park underneath. This way, a parking lot can serve multiple purposes, including making your employees’ day a little more comfortable by sparing them from the pain of a hot car seat in the summer and protecting their vehicles from hail and other damaging weather.
In the past, businesses would have had to dedicate acres of land for a parking lot and then, if they wished to install a solar power system, dedicate additional acres of land for a ground-mounted array if the building’s roof was not suitable. Now, by utilizing solar carports, the acreage used for parking lots can be dually purposed for added shade and on-site power production.
WHAT FINANCIAL INCENTIVES ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP REDUCE THE COST?
There are a variety of financial incentives available to help offset the costs of installing solar carports for your business. Perhaps the biggest financial incentive for solar carports would be the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The ITC is a credit that can be redeemed for 30% of the total value of the project the year following the system’s interconnection to the grid. This includes the cost of all materials such as the panels, racking, wiring, inverters, and connectors, as well as the cost for a construction crew to install the entire system—steel, foundation and all!
Keep in mind that only projects that begin construction by the end of 2019 will be eligible for the full 30% ITC. In 2020, the ITC for commercial projects will drop each year unless Congress intervenes last-minute to extend the incentive.
Additionally, many businesses operate in states which offer their own set of financial incentives to further enhance the economics of the project. One of the best places to search for any available solar incentives in your state is through the DSIRE Database which tracks incentives for the renewable energy industry in all fifty states. At the local level, some electric utilities will even offer incentives for solar electric systems. It is best to call a local solar installer directly to see if there are any available incentives to help offset the cost of installing a solar carport.
WHAT ARE SOME ANCILLARY BENEFITS OF A SOLAR CARPORT?
Aside from providing your business with clean renewable energy, solar carports have several additional benefits. One, as previously mentioned, is that they save a ton of space by operating on top of existing parking lots or garages and can provide shade and protection from the elements for vehicles. Your employees will certainly appreciate coming out to a cooler vehicle after work instead of one that has been baking in the sun all day. In some instances, businesses have even created programs that offer employees premium covered parking spots under solar canopies to help recapture the initial cost of the system.
Such programs have become increasingly popular in recent years given the increasing frequency and severity of hail storms. Colorado, for instance, had the second-highest number of hail claims in the U.S. behind Texas from 2016-2018 (395,025) according to a new NICB Hail Report published in August 2019. In the last 10 years alone, Colorado’s hail storms have caused more than $5 billion in insured damage in the state.
SOLAR CARPORTS AND EV CHARGING STATIONS
As large automobile manufacturers begin to supply more and more electric vehicles (EVs), demand for EV charging stations in public areas and at places of employment will continue to rise. Generally, individuals who purchase an EV are interested in sustainability and would prefer the electricity used to power their vehicles to be renewable as well. Luckily, solar carports can be constructed to directly power many EV charging stations around your business. This way, as an employee works during the day, their vehicle can be charging at the same time under the shade of a solar canopy.
It is fully up to the business whether to charge the employees for the usage of the EV chargers and the solar-covered parking spots, but in any case, solar carports paired with EV charging stations could provide a powerful incentive to attract the best and brightest job applicants.
WHAT TYPE OF INDUSTRIES UTILIZE THESE CARPORTS?
Any business with medium to large parking areas are ideal candidates for solar carports. Typically, this includes large warehouses which may have thousands of employees working at the job site or a large factory that requires hundreds of assemblers on-site. Additionally, other more niche industries are finding solar carports to be extremely beneficial like the rental car industry. Because they can have potentially hundreds of cars sitting out in an open parking lot, it can make sense to add a carport over them to keep them shaded between uses. This allows those wishing to rent a car to step into a cool vehicle instead of one that has been roasting in the sun. Additionally, the full energy demand for the rental car agency can be met by the production from the system in most cases.