By Jordan Randall and Pamela Maines February 10, 2021
Solar can do so much more than save money and reduce demand from fossil fuel generation. The vast and lesser-known benefits of solar carports may be surprising. Here’s how solar carports can support businesses, properties, and employees to save money and the planet.
Land Use Efficiency and Heat Island Mitigation
Parking lots are great locations for solar generation. Building ground mount systems on the undisturbed property often come with challenges–– incompatible zoning, costly site preparation, tree removal, and unsuitable soil conditions. Solar canopies or carports, that are built on top of existing parking lots, allow businesses to generate energy while maintaining existing land use, often with expedited permitting processes.
But perhaps less obvious is the potential to alleviate the Urban Heat Island Effect––where pockets of paved spaces, typically in urban environments, absorb radiation from the sun and increase daily temperatures. Heat Islands are becoming increasingly severe in many cities, often in low-income communities.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that paved locations make up about 35-40% of the overall area in cities, and 40% of this fraction are parking lots. Introducing canopy solar to parking lots not only turns a parking lot into a cost-saving and energy-generating machine but also counters the Urban Heat Island Effects and contributes to reversing the impacts of the climate crisis.
Car Cooling and Weather Protection
Studies have shown that cars, including EVs, are parked for about 95% of their lifetime. Solar canopies and carports can provide shade for parked visitors and employees while demonstrating green values in a very visible way.
According to FuelEconomy.gov, the main cause of reduced fuel economy is running a car’s air conditioning system in hot weather. Under very hot conditions, using the AC can reduce a conventional vehicle’s fuel economy by more than 25%. A shade structure reduces the need to crank the AC and provides a barrier against other harmful weather elements.
Closed-loop for EV Charging
General Motors just announced its transition to selling only electric cars and trucks by 2035, and late last year, California’s Governor Newsom made a ground-breaking move to phase out gas-powered vehicles by the same year. EV sales are expected to surpass internal-combustion-engine vehicle sales in the next ten years, taking 51% of the market by 2030. Because commuters will be driving their EVs to workplaces each day, the task of providing charging infrastructure for drivers is falling on employers. Businesses can proactively position themselves to lead in the electric mobility transition by creating flexible EV charging infrastructure, pairing solar carports with standalone energy storage. Powering EV charging with solar power from the carports is another way companies can show their commitment to holistic sustainable infrastructure.
Companies who integrate solar with battery energy storage to provide charging options for employees can also avoid high utility demand charges, reaping savings and eliminating fossil fuel-generated power purchases. By capturing every watt produced by the solar array in battery storage units and supplying stored solar energy to EV drivers, businesses can avoid drawing from the electric grid during periods of peak demand and high prices.
Retaining Dedicated and Passionate Employees
In a recent HP Workforce survey, 56% of respondents said, “ignoring sustainability in the workplace is as bad as ignoring diversity and inclusion.” 40% said they would look for new jobs if their current employers did not engage in sustainable business practices, and 39% said they would warn others of their company’s poor sustainability practices.
No doubt about it, carports offer employers a chance to visually and prominently signal to employees and customers that the company is committed to reducing carbon emissions and achieving ambitious sustainability goals. This kind of leadership in sustainability has paid benefits in the form of reduced costs and increased employee and customer engagement and shows that process improvement and product innovation is threaded through the corporate culture.
There’s lots more to discuss when it comes to evaluating different solar designs, and determining which combination is right for your specific locations and unique business goals. Our team works with businesses and corporates to examine and quantify all benefits of a potential project. Email us for a free site evaluation to see if solar canopies and carports are right for your business at firstname.lastname@example.org.