Solar canopy installations: bring shade and clean energy to your parking lot
Reading Time: 5minutesThe financial and environmental benefits of solar are greater than ever, and companies looking to benefit can now install a solar canopy over their parking lots to share in the savings. Businesses across the country are building solar parking lots that provide shade for cars while simultaneously generating renewable energy – and they’re saving thousands of dollars on electricity bills in the process.
What is a solar canopy?
Solar canopies are elevated structures that host solar panels and provide shade. These overhead solar panel installations are typically installed in parking lots or other paved areas. In practice, solar canopies are similar to solar carports and ground mounted solar panels – each provides an alternative to rooftop solar, whether because a roof can’t host solar panels or because a property’s electricity needs are too large for a rooftop solar system. Many solar parking lots also incorporate electric car charging stations so that drivers of electric vehicles can recharge with solar power while parked.
Benefits of solar parking canopies
The benefits of solar are well documented: when you install a solar energy system, you reduce your electric bills, protect against rising energy costs, and reduce your impact on the environment. Solar parking lots have a few additional benefits that standard roof-mounted and ground-mounted solar panel systems don’t always offer.
Solar canopies are an efficient use of space
Parking lots are an untapped opportunity for solar installations all across the country. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, pavement makes up 35 to 50 percent of total surface area in cities, and 40 percent of that pavement is parking lots. Installing a solar canopy over an existing parking lot is simply a more efficient use of space than installing a standard ground-mounted system – when you build a solar canopy, you add more uses to the same square footage and don’t have to set aside additional space.
Solar panel parking lots also provide shade
If you’ve ever had to get into a hot car that has been sitting in the sun all day, it’s easy to understand why the shade that solar parking canopies offer is another major benefit. However, shade isn’t just a matter of comfort in your car. When you build a solar canopy in your parking lot, the shade it provides can also improve the fuel economy of cars that park under it. According to FuelEconomy.gov, running your car’s air conditioning (AC) system is the main cause of reduced fuel economy in hot weather. Under very hot conditions (such as when your car has been baking in the hot sun), using the AC can reduce a conventional vehicle’s fuel economy by more than 25 percent. For hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles, the effect can be even larger. By keeping cars cool on hot days, solar parking lots reduce the need for heavy air conditioning use.
Canopy parking can be oriented for maximum production
Rooftop solar arrays are restricted by the characteristics of the roof on which they are installed. If your roof isn’t at the right angle, doesn’t face south, or has obstructions like chimneys, skylights, or vents, then your solar array will be less productive. The solar panels on your parking canopy, however, can be oriented so that they produce as much electricity as possible, which means maximum savings.
How much can you save with a solar parking canopy installation?
Your solar canopy economics will depend on the size of your system and how much you currently pay for electricity. A few things to keep in mind:
Solar panels typically reach their maximum production in the afternoon, when demand charges can be very high. If your business is subject to demand charges during moments of peak electricity consumption, a solar canopy can dramatically reduce your bill by cutting your grid electricity use during those times.
A solar parking lot will cost more than a similarly sized rooftop installation because of the additional labor and equipment needed to construct the canopies to host the panels. However, as mentioned above, solar canopies also offer additional environmental benefits, can produce more electricity, and aren’t subject to the same space restrictions as rooftop systems.
In addition to the tax breaks available for solar, businesses that construct solar canopies (and other types of solar panel systems) can write off the value of their solar energy systems through the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), which reduces businesses’ tax burden and accelerates returns on solar investments. Qualified solar energy equipment is eligible for a cost recovery period of five years. Accelerated depreciation can reduce your net system cost by an additional 30 percent.
The City of Santa Cruz installed a solar canopy over two of its publicly owned parking lots. In addition to generating electricity and providing shade, the carports have charging stations for municipal electric vehicles. Overall, the two systems produce an average annual savings of $73,000 and meet more than half of the electricity demand for the sites where they were installed. Total savings for the 25-year lifetime of the system: more than $4 million.Click here to read the City of Santa Cruz case study.
University of Colorado, Boulder
The University of Colorado, Boulder installed a solar carport at their Mountain Research Center. Like the City of Santa Cruz, CU Boulder’s carport is also wired for electric vehicle charging stations. The university’s solar parking lot offers an average annual savings of $21,750, equivalent to an eight percent return on the initial investment. In the two years after this initial system was installed, CU Boulder built two more solar carports on its campus, helping to achieve LEED Platinum status for some of the buildings.Click here to read the CU Boulder case study.
How to get your own solar panel parking lot
Solar parking canopies are a major construction investment with the potential for major savings. The best way to determine which solar canopy option is the best option for your property is to compare multiple offers from qualified solar installers in your area. On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can get quotes from pre-screened installers local to you and compare them based on pricing, savings, system size, and equipment. To get started, register your property and specify in the “add details” section that you are looking for a solar parking lot installation. If you are building a canopy from the ground up for this project, simply drag the pin to your parking lot or other area where you would like the solar canopy to be built.