• Austin Brentley

Solar Carports: What They Are And How They Can Benefit Your Clients

With an estimated 140 million American homes that could theoretically accommodate photovoltaic (PV) panels, rooftop solar is a huge market. However, the potential solar carport market is significantly larger given that there are nearly 280 million cars on the road, with enough parking capacity for eight times as many vehicles according to Mental Floss.

Any PV contractors looking to expand their reach and grow their operations should consider adding solar carports to their list of installation services. The market is already huge. And with PV panel prices trending downwards and electric vehicle (EV) sales on the rise, demand for solar carports will only increase in the years to come.

This article explains what solar carports are, how they work and why they’re becoming more popular.

What Is A Solar Carport?

A solar carport is a covered parking area with a canopy made from PV panels. Sometimes these carports are designed for a single parking spot – like in residential driveways. Other times, they might be strung together in a series to cover entire commercial parking lots.

Either way, solar carport owners benefit from cheaper and cleaner electricity, while also providing shade and protection for their vehicles.

How Does A Solar Carport Work?

Unlike with traditional PV installations attached to rooftops, ground-mounted PV systems rely on tilted panels installed several feet off the ground.

Solar carport structures use a ground-mounted model – except that the PV panels are installed even higher off the ground to provide enough clearance for parked vehicles. Many solar carports also come with in-built electric vehicle (EV) charging stations so that drivers can top up their batteries when not using their cars.

How Much Does A Solar Carport Cost?

In the U.S., a standard solar carport system costs about $3.45 per watt, with the bulk of these expenses going to:

  • The panels themselves, which range from $16,000 to $18,000 on average for a 5kW system

  • The solar carport structure used to support the PV panels costs around $2,500

  • The labor, wiring and other components that round out the system

While these are rough averages, there are several different factors that might influence the total cost of a solar panel carport. For example, commercial installations tend to be somewhat cheaper per watt due to economies of scale. With current PV panel prices, for example, a business owner should budget closer to $3.45 per watt. By contrast, residential solar carports hover closer to the $4 per watt range on average.

Either way, solar carports are technically more expensive than their rooftop counterparts are, with a traditional residential PV system costing as little as $2.81 per watt to install. However, not every home or commercial property is suited for rooftop solar due to any number of factors, including:

  • Excessive shading

  • Chimneys, vents, and gables

  • Limited rooftop space

  • Incorrect orientation

For those with large enough yards, ground-mounted solar is often an attractive option, with prices hovering in the $3.11 per watt range.

Despite their higher costs, however, solar panel carports provide a host of advantages over rooftop and ground-mounted PV systems.

The Benefits Of Solar Carports

Below are just some of the reasons commercial and residential solar carports are increasingly in demand.

1. Reduced Energy Expenses

Solar canopies represent an easy way to turn unused surface areas into mini power plants. Just as with rooftop and ground-mounted solar installations, clients can generate their own clean electricity on-site instead of buying power from the utility company. As a result, solar carport owners benefit from monthly savings – not to mention smaller carbon footprints. Better still, their energy costs stay constant since sunshine remains the same price forever (free).

With enough installed capacity, users can even sell excess solar energy back to their utility providers under incentive programs like net energy metering.

2. More Efficient Use Of Space

Ground-mounted solar installations take up valuable real estate, with the space underneath not providing much benefit. Similarly, the average parking lot isn’t terribly productive (even when cars are parked there).

Solar carports offer the best of both worlds – allowing users to optimize limited real estate by transforming unproductive parking spots into renewable energy-generation machines.

3. Protection From The Elements

In addition to generating cheaper and cleaner electricity for their owners, solar carports also provide protection from the elements:

  • On the hottest days of the year, solar carports help shade vehicles – resulting in more comfortable commutes for their drivers

  • Solar carports provide protection from rain, sleet, and snow – helping to prolong the useful lifetimes of the vehicles underneath

4. EV-Charging

This is a relatively recent benefit. But solar carports can be integrated with EV-charging solutions:

  • Homeowners enjoy peace of mind in knowing that their electric vehicles have fuller batteries whenever they leave their houses

  • Business owners who install solar carports with chargers give EV drivers another reason to walk through the door

5. More Power Generation

Although solar carports carry a higher price tag, they are simpler to manipulate and optimize than traditional rooftop PV systems. It’s much easier to reorient a parking spot than it is to reposition an entire roof. And this allows installers to orient their clients’ carports in the optimal direction to maximize sun capture – and by extension, solar power generation, carbon offsets, and monthly savings.

Is A Solar Panel Carport Right For Your Clients?

Solar carports aren’t for everyone. And your own clients may be better off with a conventional rooftop solar installation, provided their home or business has sufficient space and the right orientation.

However, solar carports are an increasingly affordable option that delivers many important benefits. And with demand on the rise, adding solar carports to your renewable energy services is a great way to attract more business and future-proof your operations.

GreenLancer can help your business find the best sites for solar carport installation, provide client-ready proposals and drawings, navigate the solar permitting process, and get engineering seals of approval. Work with us to make your next project a breeze.