Solar carports.

A Quick Guide To Solar Carports

Apr 5, 2022

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Have you ever considered adding a solar carport to your property? A solar carport may be a great way to get solar energy for your home without having to put solar panels on your roof.

Many solar systems are mounted on roofs, but parking areas can also be a great spot for homeowners or businesses to install a photovoltaic array and generate renewable energy. Here’s what you need to know about solar carports – how they work, how much they cost, how many solar panels you need and the benefits for businesses and homeowners.

What Is A Solar Panel Carport?

A solar carport is a structure that can shelter vehicles and also produce solar energy. They can sometimes be arranged to make better use of sunlight than many roof-mounted solar systems. Solar panel carports also protect vehicles from UV light and inclement weather and can even provide convenient charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs).

How Do Solar Carports Work?

How do solar carports work, exactly?

You might be able to use an already-existing carport as your solar carport. If you build a solar carport, it can be similar to a taller version of a ground-mounted solar array. The new structure won’t need a roof because the solar panels function as a roof. 

Solar carports use solar energy technology just as a typical ground-mounted or rooftop system does. Carports generate voltage or electric current in a photovoltaic cell when exposed to sunlight by converting photons into energy. This is often called the photovoltaic effect.

While most solar carports connect to the grid, there are some freestanding off-grid options available to you as well. These are sometimes called solar canopies. Solar canopies are typically built in parking lots or other paved areas. They can also use bifacial solar panels that capture sunlight reflected from the ground.

Are Solar Carports For Business Parking Areas Or Homes?

Solar carports can do more than power homes. Both homeowners and businesses can use solar carports to power a building or home or charge electric vehicles. Ground-mounted solar panels are often installed above parking lots for businesses, government agencies and organizations with large parking lots. Homeowners simply use solar carports on a smaller scale.

Before you choose to add a solar carport, it's a good idea to know about any zoning or homeowners association (HOA) rules that may restrict their use.

How Much Does A Solar Carport Cost?

Costs vary by a number of factors, including the number of panels required, structures needed to mount the panels and the availability of government and utility company incentives. Prices can start as low as $6,000 for a residential system and increase from there, depending on the complexity of the system. Commercial solar carports can cost millions of dollars.

Commercial installations often require construction, though there are some pre-fabricated solutions, which might even cost more. Businesses should also consider whether they’ll need energy storage such as a backup battery, which can impact the project cost.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?

How many solar panels do you need? It's a common question many people ask before purchasing a solar carport. Consider defining your goals, which could include powering your entire home or just charging an electric vehicle.

Large-scale installations for businesses or other entities might aim to power a fleet of electric vehicles, provide electricity for facilities or allow customers to charge their EVs.

The number of panels you’ll need truly changes for every situation depending on your geographic location and individual panel specifications.

Why Choose A Residential Solar Carport Versus A Rooftop Or Ground-Mounted System?

Let's take a look at the difference between a solar carport versus a ground-mounted system. Both solar carports and ground-mounted arrays are viable options for situations where there’s not enough roof space for a typical solar installation.

A ground mounting system is often a less-effective use of ground space. A solar carport adds function to an area that otherwise would just be for a parking space – they offer protection from sun/rain/snow while also producing power.

If your roof isn’t well suited for panels to get the most out of the sun, solar carports or ground-mounted arrays allow you to position panels to get more sunlight. You may also want to turn to a solar carport if your roof is not in good condition or needs replacing soon.

Can I Install A Solar Carport Myself?

Adding a solar carport yourself is possible, but not practical in most cases. For one, you may need to build a structure if you don’t have an existing carport.

Unless you have electrical training, connecting the panels to the inverter to the electrical panel and the panel to the utility grid might be challenging. Make sure you have the tools and skills to install the carport. In either case, your municipality or utility company will likely require you to have a permit and undergo a site review before going live.

What Are The Benefits For Businesses?

Businesses can tap into multiple benefits when they build solar carports. Parking lots are widely available, close to customers and on land that doesn't offer significant utility outside of parking. 

Businesses can also offer charging stations for electric vehicles to customers, possibly to keep them shopping longer and spending more while their cars charge. Businesses with large vehicle fleets may find it easier to transition to EVs when they have charging capabilities on site.

Businesses that serve customers can use solar carports to help shade and protect parking areas from the elements. There may be incentives for businesses even beyond what’s available for individuals as more government agencies work to encourage sustainability measures.

The Bottom Line

A solar carport can offer multiple benefits for both homeowners and businesses. Solar carports produce renewable energy just like solar panels on a roof. You can use an already-established carport for solar panels or build a structure specifically for solar panels. A carport may also offer a great option if you don't have a high quality roof.

The costs vary, depending on the size of your carport and the number of panels you plan to put on your carport. Do some research before you decide how you'll build your solar panels.

Does solar make sense for you? If you’re researching whether solar panels are right for you, check out our article on whether solar panels are worth the investment.

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