solar carport

A solar carport is a canopy that captures solar energy over a parking area. They provide a huge opportunity to use otherwise wasted parking lot space to create renewable energy. While a typical carport or patio cover provides shading and is undoubtedly a value-add for a home or automobile owner, its one-dimensional simplicity is a missed opportunity. If you're a PV fanatic following emerging technologies in the solar industry, you may have already spotted the solar industry's solution: solar canopies, also known as solar carports.

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Key takeways

  • A solar carport is a canopy over one or more parking spaces with solar panels on it

  • Both commercial and residential properties can benefit from carports

  • Compare solar quotes for your unique roof setup on the EnergySage Marketplace

Solar carports are overhead canopies built to cover parking areas and are distinct from panels installed onto a preexisting carport structure. Solar carports have many things in common with ground-mount solar panels, which are angled panel modules installed on the ground rather than on a rooftop.

Ground-mount solar and solar carports eliminate the need for a surface on which the panels can be mounted. The primary difference between a solar carport and a typical ground mount installation is that carports are taller to make space for a car to park. Otherwise, the two are similar, and each allows installers to orient the panels at the most optimal angle for sunlight exposure.

The great advantage of solar carports and solar patio covers is that they don't require additional land like ground mount. As a result, solar panel carports offer more efficient use of space than ground-mounted panels. Certain states, like Massachusetts, have incentives for solar canopy structures over ground mounts. If you are concerned about the efficient use of space, you should consider a solar carport over a ground-mounted system. Overall, solar panel carports have fewer restraints or conflicts than ground-mounted solar and are preferable under many circumstances.

To date, solar carports are much more prevalent in the U.S. commercial sector than in residential markets. Many businesses have embraced installing massive solar canopies for parking lots.

When it comes to commercial and residential solar canopies, many different layouts and sizes are available. Dependent on the number of rows of parking required, a photovoltaic carport is typically one, two, or three rows wide. Solar parking lots, by comparison, can be large enough to span dozens of rows of parking. Installing a solar canopy can power your home or turn a wide-open stretch of pavement into a major electricity generator.

Other than a solar carport's size, the primary way that solar carport construction varies is in the angle of the panels. The panels will either be angled upwards in one direction (Figure A), angled and curved in one direction leading to a flat surface (Figure B), or very slightly angled to the point of appearing flat (Figure C), typically to provide shading and coverage for a larger number of cars.

solar carport angled

Figure A

Solar carport curved

Figure B

solar carport flat

Figure C

One reason why residential has an advantage over commercial when it comes to canopies and carports is the materials used for construction. Commercial solar carports will almost always need a steel metal foundation, which adds a significant expense to the total installation. By comparison, smaller residential carports have flexibility around structure material and design – a homeowner could choose a larger carport layout or a smaller patio cover to host a modest solar system.

As with ground mount solar, it is often assumed that versatile solutions like solar carports and ground mounts are only meant for homeowners who do not qualify for rooftop solar panels. However, the reality is that these alternative options can often make more sense for homeowners due to several factors.

Issues with roof angle, orientation, and size are eliminated with a carport because the panels will serve as the "roof" of the structure, and the supporting metal poles can be situated as necessary once the optimal array size and angle are determined. With rooftop solar, homeowners often face issues installing a system that's big enough because they may not have a suitable roof area. Space constraints are eliminated with ground-mount solar and are rare with solar canopies and carports.

Check out the table below to compare and contrast the various array types (carport, ground mount, rooftop). This table contains the average U.S. dollars per watt, system size, most popular solar panel brand, and percentage need met (referring to what percentage of electricity needs the array supplied on average) based on data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. The table will help answer possibly the most important question to homeowners curious about solar carports: regardless of how convenient or efficient they are, how do they compare to rooftop solar on bill savings and cost?

Residential solar comparison by mount location

Solar Carport
Rooftop Solar
Ground Mount Solar
Dollars per watt$3.31$2.81$3.11
Average system size12.3 kW10.2 kW13.0 kW
Percentage need met98.8%95.8%95.4%
Leading panel brandRECPanasonicQ CELLS

Source: EnergySage Solar Marketplace quotes for solar systems

There are many insights from the above solar array comparison. Still, the first clear takeaway is that solar carports are a viable option for homeowners, even when compared to rooftop and ground-mount solar. Though the dollars per watt figure from this dataset is slightly higher than ground mount and significantly higher than rooftop PV, the cost of solar carports may fall faster than its counterparts over the coming years.

The comparison also shows parallels between solar carports and ground-mount solar systems. Both options allow for bigger system sizes than rooftops (likely due to a lack of space constraints), and both are conducive to panels that an average rooftop system also often uses (LG).

Because solar panel carports are still a new and growing product offering in the U.S. solar industry, it may not be obvious how to get one for your home. However, most installers who work with ground mount arrays should also be able to install solar carports. If you want a smaller off-grid system rather than one that powers your entire home, you can also explore DIY solar options.

We always recommend that customers educate themselves about solar and get more than one quote to compare options, pricing, savings, system size, etc. Register your home on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace and specify in the "add details" section that you are looking for a solar carport installation. If you are building a carport from the ground up for this project, drag the pin to your driveway or the area where you would like the carport to be built.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. We only link to products that we think are great.

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