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Why You Should Consider a Solar Carport

Avatar for Hatham Al-Shabibi
Published on 07/23/2019 in
Updated 11/11/2019
Commercial-scale solar carport in Las Vegas

In short: Solar carports are a great 2-for-1 for homeowners interested in solar energy, and for keeping their vehicles safe from the elements. They’re not that different than ground-mounted solar systems in structure and installation; they’re just raised up higher. The major advantage is they don’t require extra land to install, and the prices are right on par with traditional roof-mounted systems.

What are solar carports?

We have to get the biggest confusion out of the way here: solar carports are different than ground-mounted solar systems, and they’re different from existing carports with solar panels slapped on top.

They’re designed specifically for solar, and to provide shade and protection from your vehicles. They are essentially ground-mounted panels lifted high enough for cars to fit underneath, with the usual inverter and framing. The energy produced can be used for anything a traditional system can be used for: home power, charging an electric vehicle (how about a new Tesla under that carport?), power storage, net metering, and so forth.

The silliest metaphor we can find here is the way spiders stand up tall, their bodies lifted high above the tips of their legs on the ground (at least one of us on the team is brave enough to get close to spiders and observe their walking preferences). Solar carports are kind of like that: tall, but strong legs lifting the system up.

There are some great advantages solar carports enjoy over roof-mounted or ground-mounted systems:

  • Your roof may not be able to support all of your energy needs. Solar carports can be customized in size.
  • Your roof may not face in the ideal cardinal directions for solar. Again, their orientation can be more easily customized.
  • Solar carports can be easily connected to an electric vehicle (EV) charging port.

As you can see, solar carports are generally more flexible to your home’s needs, especially when it comes to land/roof size constraints.

Are solar carports popular?

Also called solar canopies, they’re quite popular in commercial settings. Companies, churches, parks, high schools, recreation centers, and big-box store parking lots are all examples of places where canopies have been installed around the country.

For example, Intel installed two solar carport systems: a 6.5-megawatt system at their Folsom, CA campus, and an even bigger 7.7-megawatt solar carport at their Chandler Ocotillo, CA campus.

Another example involves every hipster’s favorite grocery store: Whole Foods. In 2014, they installed a 325-kilowatt hour (kWh) solar carport at their Brooklyn store.

Built by Solaire Generation, this system is particularly innovative: it features special water gutters in the center of the canopies that direct rainwater into a 30,000-gallon tank underneath the parking lot, which is then processed and used in the store’s sinks and bathrooms. That’s freaking cool!

You probably already know this, but commercial solar carports are much larger than residential solar carports. Whereas a residential solar carport will fit 1-2 cars, commercial installations cover entire parking lots. Unless you’re Jay Leno, you probably can stick with the residential size.

Can I put solar panels on top of my existing carport?

Yes, but this process is technically different than a solar carport. Installing panels on your existing carport roof is the same process as installing panels on your home’s roof: the orientation of the roof, the size of it, what the roof is made of, and the roof’s angle all come into play when installing panels on your existing carport.

As we explained above, they’re specially designed to be just that: the structure is designed to hold panels, and those panels are installed at the same time the structure is built. They can also double as electric vehicle (EV) charging ports.

How much do solar carports and canopies cost?

The good news is the price of a solar carport isn’t much different than a traditional roof-mounted system. And just like traditional systems, solar carport prices have plummeted in the last decade. In 2010, solar carports were a whopping $7 per watt. Now they’re around $2.50 per watt.

Graph showing price decreases for solar carports

Traditional solar prices in 2010 were around $7.34 per watt, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In 2018, $2.70 per watt. These prices include soft costs such as installation and marketing and cost over time — this is neatly called LCOE (levelized cost of energy).

Can I claim the 30% federal tax credit?

Yes. Since installing a solar carport involves installing new solar on your home, you can claim the ITC, commonly known as the federal solar tax credit.

Keep in mind that the tax credit begins to sunset in 2020. You can claim the full 30% off the price of solar until the end of 2019; next year it drops to 26%, then 22% in 2021 (unless it’s renewed – which we hope it will be).

To qualify for the federal tax credit, the installation must house your residence’s solar array, and power your residence (basically, it’s not for commercial purposes).

In addition, you can claim the carport structure itself, not just the panels, when filing taxes to claim the full credit on the system.

If you actually like reading tax documents, here’s the official form and instructions.

Can I claim state rebates, tax credits, and participate in net metering with a solar carport?

Yes, yes, and yes. Since solar carports are solar systems, they qualify for solar-related tax credits and rebates in your state. If you’re curious if your state has any such programs, well, we can help you with that.

What is net metering?

Net metering is the billing arrangement where you can sell excess electricity back to your utility for equal the amount you are charged to consume it. If you generate more power than you need, you get a credit on your next bill (if your state or power company has net metering).

Solar bicycle station in San Diego

Next up: Solar everything.

I like solar energy, and I like protecting my cars. Where can I get one of these?

We can connect you with solar installers in your area that design and build solar carports. Our installers can also help you understand different payment options for solar, such as loans and Power-Purchase Agreements (PPA).

Solar carports are, much like bifacial solar panels, an emerging innovation projected to become much more popular and cheaper in the coming years. We at Solar Power Rocks never cease to be amazed at how solar energy evolves in ways that reduce our impact as a society while increasing access to renewable energy for more people. If you’re tight on space, or have an older roof, a solar carport might be just right for you.

Last modified: November 11, 2019

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Billy
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Definitely a great idea to look into a carport – it is a wonderful way to generate electricity and provide shade for a parking lot!

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