The Washington Post. See August 2016 Bloomberg article further down., excerpt cross-posted from
With solar gardens expanding, are ready areas of paved spaces — PV-covered parking lots — on the horizon?
Solar carports have many benefits, ranging from aesthetics (yes, the things look very cool) to subtler factors. Like this: Not having to return to a hot car after spending three hours at the mall or a sporting event in the summer. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, being able to park in the shade in the summer is actually a substantial contributor to increased vehicle fuel efficiency, because it saves having to cool your car back up by cranking the air conditioner.
Cost is the problem. “It’s the most expensive type of system to build,” says Chase Weir of TruSolar, which rates solar projects based on financial riskiness. “A lot more engineering, a whole lot more steel, more labor, and therefore, it’s a relatively small percentage [of solar power]…but it is growing, and the cost to install a solar canopy today is less than the cost to install a rooftop just a few years ago.” Still, there aren’t all that many right now. According to Scott Moskowitz of GTM Research, which released astudy of the sector last year, by the end of 2014 there were an estimated 600 megawatts (or 2.5 billion dollars) worth of solar canopies installed in the U.S. In energy terms, though, 600 megawatts isn’t a very big number. Just consider: The Hoover Dam has a capacity of more than 2,000 megawatts, the world’s biggest coal plant is close to 6,000 megawatts, and even the world’s largest solar plant is 550 megawatts.
They’ve also been used to adorn hotels, such as one just unveiled at the Phoenician, a luxury hotel in Scotsdale, Arizona:
And then there are other large-scale installers: One of the best known solar carports is at the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field, where a gigantic solar array covering 841 parking spaces is able to generate enough power to cover “20 percent of the stadium’s power needs on game days and all of its power on non-game days,” according to Clark Construction, which installed it.
Laurence Mackler, who founded the solar carport installer Solaire Generation, says his company has now installed 50 megawatts worth of carports nationwide and has seen costs steadily decline over time. But he also emphasizes that there’s still a financial problem — one that has limited the growth of solar carports significantly.
“Everyone says to me, that’s a great idea, why doesn’t everyone do it,” says Mackler of solar carports. “And I have to say, well, because the economics work in certain states.”
That conclusion was reaffirmed by a 2014 market research report on solar carports by GTM Research, which found that they are mainly springing up in Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York and most of all California, which is more than half of the total market. For the most part, the report notes, that’s because these states offer an array of state financial incentives to support their development.
Here’s a figure demonstrating as much from GTM Research:
“Because carport projects are more expensive, they have a generally higher reliance on state level incentives,” says report co-author Scott Moskowitz, a solar analyst with GTM Research. “So the markets in which those exist, there is going to be a higher concentration of carports.”
Clearly, the most important state is California, where according to GTM Research, solar carports have been supported both by the California Solar Initiative and also by the Division of the State Architect, which oversees construction on many public buildings. Moskowitz says that as costs of installation continue to decline, he does expect the solar carport market to expand into other states, too.
Here are his projections for growth through 2018:
So in sum: Putting solar atop pavements, with cooled down cars sandwiched in between, sounds like an energy no brainer. Maybe in the future, it’ll also be a financial one.
From Bloomberg Markets
Michael Maravelias, a sales manager for Airgas Refrigerants in Massachusetts, is concerned about climate change and wanted to do his part to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, but the roof on his home is already 15 years old and would need to be replaced long before the panels. He also had concerns that installing a system could damage his home, or that firefighters may hesitate if they saw a system on his roof.
Last year, Maravelias contracted to buy power from an NRG solar farm about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from his home in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Now his monthly power bill is about 15 percent cheaper.
“I didn’t want anyone drilling holes in my roof,” Maravelias said by phone. “Plus they look ugly and could be a fire hazard. Now you just don’t need to install solar on your roof to get the benefits.”