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Solar Carports: What Are The Pros & Cons

Updated: Apr 10


solar panel carport

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) targets 30% of electricity generation in the United States to come from solar power by 2030. One such application that’s gaining traction is the solar carport.


Solar installation companies looking to expand their operations should consider adding solar carports to their list of photovoltaic (PV) installation services. With solar panel prices staying low and electric vehicle (EV) sales rising, demand for solar panel carports will only increase in the coming years.


In this article, we’ll walk through what a carport with solar panels is, how it works, and its advantages and disadvantages.


What Is A Solar Carport?

A solar carport is a covered parking area with a canopy made from solar PV panels. They make efficient use of space because they allow for vehicle parking and solar energy generation on the same parcel. Increasingly, solar canopies are being combined with electric vehicle (EV) chargers to allow EV charging with renewable energy.


Sometimes, residential carports are designed for a single parking spot – like in driveways. Other times, commercial solar carports might be strung together in a series to cover entire parking lots. Either way, solar power carport owners benefit from low-cost clean energy, while also providing shade and protection for vehicles.


Some companies offer DIY solar carport kits that homeowners can assemble and install themselves. These residential solar carport systems allow handy homeowners to save money on installation costs.


How Does A Solar Carport Work?

Unlike traditional rooftop solar installations, ground-mounted PV systems rely on tilted panels installed several feet above the ground. Solar carport structures use a ground-mounted model – except that the solar panels are installed higher off the ground to provide enough clearance for parked vehicles. Carports with solar panels are used in both residential and commercial applications, from single-family homes to large corporate campuses.


Solar PV carports offer another option for homes and businesses that want to install solar panels, but are limited by the following:

  • Excessive shading from trees and buildings

  • Chimneys, vents, and gables limit the space for solar panels

  • Small roofs

  • Improper roof orientation


How Much Does A Solar Carport Cost?

In the U.S., solar carport systems typically cost between $3.45 and $4.00 per watt, including solar panels, the carport structure, labor, wiring, and other solar equipment. Therefore, a 5-kilowatt solar carport would cost between $17,250 and $20,000 before applying the federal solar tax credit.


Residential solar carports prices tend to be more per watt than commercial solar panel carports because they are usually smaller and miss out on economies of scale. Typically, solar carports cost more than a rooftop PV system with the same capacity because of the additional cost of the carport structure.


The Pros & Cons Of Solar Panel Carports


Residential and commercial solar panel carports provide numerous advantages and disadvantages compared to rooftop and traditional ground-mounted PV systems.

Pros

Cons

Lower energy bills from solar power production

Greater material costs than most rooftop solar systems

Efficient use of space by using parking areas

More labor hours for the installation than rooftop PV arrays

Protects vehicles from the elements

Requires space for building a PV carport structure

EV-charging capabilities (optional)

Solar carport permitting challenges

More solar power capacity

Solar engineering complexity


The Benefits of a Solar Carport

Carports with solar panels offer a dual-purpose solution by providing shade for parked vehicles while generating clean, renewable energy from the sun.


1. Lower Energy Bills

Solar canopies can easily turn unused parcels into mini power plants. Like rooftop solar installations, clients can generate on-site renewable energy instead of buying power from the utility company. As a result, solar carport owners benefit from monthly electricity bill savings.


With enough installed capacity, users could even sell excess solar energy back to their electric company through incentive programs like net energy metering.


2. Efficient Use Of Space

Ground-mounted solar projects take up valuable land, with the space underneath rarely providing much additional benefit, except when combined with agrovoltaics. 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 facilities. If more commercial solar carports are installed on parking lots, it decreases the need to convert agricultural land to solar farms.


3. Protect Vehicles From The Elements

In addition to generating low-cost clean energy, a solar carport also provides protection from inclement weather. On the hottest days of the year, solar carports help shade vehicles, resulting in more comfortable commutes for their drivers. For this reason, they are especially popular in hot, sunny climates like Southern California, New Mexico, and Arizona. Likewise, solar carports provide protection from rain, sleet, ice, hail, and snow, helping to prolong the useful life of the cars underneath.


4. EV-Charging & Solar Carports

Commercial and residential solar carports can be integrated with EV-charging infrastructure. Homeowners with carports enjoy peace of mind in knowing that their EVs are charged with renewable power and don't produce greenhouse gas emissions. Business owners who install commercial solar carports with EV chargers can have a new revenue stream and an additional amenity to offer customers.


5. Solar Power Generation

Although solar carports have a higher price tag, they can be ideal for certain applications where a rooftop solar system wouldn't have enough capacity or would be excessively shaded. Plus, solar installers can often orient the carport in the optimal direction to maximize sun radiation – and by extension, solar power generation, carbon offsets, and monthly utility bill savings.


The Disadvantages of a Solar Carport

Although they have many advantages, there are some cons to installing solar panel carports.


1. Greater Material Costs

Whereas rooftop solar projects usually have relatively modest racking system costs, carports with solar panels need a more substantial structure. The starting price of the carport is usually at least a couple thousand dollars but can be tens of thousands for larger commercial solar carports.


2. Solar Carport Installations Are More Labor Intensive

Installing solar panels on a carport usually requires more time than completing a rooftop PV project. This is especially true if the solar installation crew is less familiar with assembling carports and mounting the solar panels on them.


3. Space Requirements for Solar Panel Carports

Although not all rooftops are well suited for solar panels, not all properties are well suited for carports. Finding available space for a carport can be especially difficult in urban locations where land is limited. For this reason, commercial solar carports on parking lots are especially appealing.


4. Challenging Solar Carport Design & Engineering

Solar carports create unique challenges for the solar design and engineering process. It is essential that the carport is structurally sound and able to handle the necessary wind and snow loads. Often, a structural engineer is needed to ensure the carport is robust enough, with groundwork to properly secure the structure.


The GreenLancer team is skilled in creating solar plan sets and offers a variety of solar engineering design services for PV installers. Our network, which can provide coverage in all 50 states, includes professional engineering firms that specialize in solar and are licensed and insured in the states where they operate.


5. Solar Carport Permitting Can Be Difficult

Obtaining permits for solar carports can be a complex process, involving considerations for both parking structures and energy infrastructure. However, the exact solar permitting requirements vary depending on the AHJ and local zoning and regulations. Engineering stamps are often required for PV carports, especially commercial solar carports.


Incentives For Solar Carport Installations

Homeowners can qualify for the federal solar tax credit for a residential solar carport, which can reduce the total cost of the project by 30%. Some states also offer incentives for solar carports, including rebates and tax credits, so be sure to research state, local, and utility solar incentives. For the 5kW carport system we outlined above, this could mean savings of around $6,000 if the homeowner qualifies for the federal solar tax credit.


Some commercial solar carport installations could qualify for the 30% investment tax credit and bonus depreciation. In addition, some states have SREC markets for additional income from the solar parking canopy.


Solar Carport Manufacturers

There are several companies that specialize in solar carport structures.


This company specializes in solar structures for commercial and utility-scale solar projects and offers a range of additional accessories, such as GaskeX waterproofing, EV mounting, lighting, battery storage, and custom coatings. Kern Solar Structures prides itself on a quick installation process, with an average install time of 5 days per solar carport structure.


These solar carport kits are available for both residential and commercial solar PV installations. Their pre-assembled components and durable design ensure quick installation, making them a good choice for aluminum alloy and carbon steel solar carports for parking areas.


This company offers a variety of solar mounting systems, including residential and commercial solar carports, that are compatible with most solar modules. The company offers a 10-year durability warranty on its solar carports, which offer little maintenance.



Can a Solar Carport Charge an Electric Car?

Yes, a solar carport can be designed to charge an electric vehicle. A solar carport is a structure with solar panels on the roof, and serves the dual purpose of providing shelter for vehicles while generating electricity from the sun. The solar panels on the carport roof can be connected to an electric car charging station, allowing the generated solar energy to charge the electric vehicle.


Is a Solar Carport and a Solar Canopy the Same Thing?

The terms "solar carport" and "solar canopy" are often used interchangeably, and in many contexts, they refer to the same or very similar structures. Both a solar carport and solar canopy typically involve a covered structure with solar panels, serving the dual purpose of providing shelter or shade for parked vehicles and generating solar energy.


While there might be some nuanced differences in design or usage in certain contexts, these terms are often used synonymously to describe solar-integrated structures that offer both parking and solar power generation capabilities.


Is A Solar Panel Carport Structure Worth It?

Solar parking canopies are growing in popularity, but they aren’t for everyone because they are often more expensive. Therefore, your clients may be better off with a conventional rooftop solar installation or traditional ground-mounted solar panels, provided their home or business has sufficient space and the right orientation.


However, solar power carports are an increasingly affordable option that delivers several important benefits. With demand on the rise, adding solar carports to your renewable energy services is a great way to attract more business and scale up your operations.


GreenLancer can help your business find the best sites for solar carport installations, provide solar permitting services, and get engineering seals of approval. Work with us to bring scale, speed, and efficiency to your next solar energy project by making it easier to pass carport inspections and permitting requirements.



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