Clever Uses of Carports and Solar Energy Across the Country

Hockey Puck in FlightMany school parking lots in California have been transformed with carports that not only enable teachers, administrators, and students to park their cars out of the scorching glare of the sun but improve the environment as well. Several schools in multiple districts continue to install solar power generating systems atop carports to provide power for the schools to operate. Numerous advantages have resulted from these installations.

The shady shelter protects from the chance of rain and reliable California sunshine. Cars parked beneath the canopies stay cooler and out of reach of deteriorating ultra-violet rays. Not only will these cars be more comfortable at the end of the day, but they will retain a better value with less exposure to environmental damages.

The more significant purpose for the solar generating aspect of these carports is to provide a clean source of renewable energy for the school systems and a cost savings over time. The installations will take years to recoup the initial investment, but large percentages may be saved with the solar energy generation each year. Some residents have complained about the architectural aesthetic of the carports and the fact that a humming noise is generated, but proponents contend that the environmental factors and potential for financial savings outweigh such superficial concerns.

Across the country in Massachusetts, a solar powered ice rink has been created by a hockey league in the state. This energy generating ice rink has installed solar panels on the tops of carports and rooftops and was designed to use half the energy of similar facilities. In Massachusetts’ seasonal climate, metal carports are relied upon to provide shade and rain protection in warmer months as well as shelter from snow and ice in the wintertime. The Falmouth Youth Hockey League facility will be operating with the power generated by the solar energy system owned and operated by ConEdison Solutions.

California School District to add Solar Carports

Carports seem like the most efficient method for using solar power. Essentially, when photovoltaic panels are used for any type of building, they take in the sun’s energy, convert it into DC power, which is then converted into AC power for a home or building. Carports, with these panels on top, still allow this process to occur and, at the same time, provide shelter for the vehicles below. This innovative design replaces the home’s or building’s reliance on the electric grid and, over time, ends up resulting in savings on electricity. Additionally, similar designs allow electric vehicles below to be powered, as well.

Solar carports have been in the news recently for this purpose, this time for a school district in California. The San Ramon Valley Unified School District decided to add solar panels to six of its schools – four middle and two high schools – to replace two-thirds of the traditional energy used by each. With a $23.2 million contract with SunPower Corp. to add these systems, the schools should have the solar carports in place by the 2011-12 school year. All carports will be added to current areas of school parking.

However, adding these carports wasn’t a solid decision by the school board until recently. The district wondered if solar energy would be beneficial and, as we’ve seen in some cases, the cost of adding a system of solar carports ends up being expensive up front and not truly becoming a cost-efficient method for a few years, even decades, down the line. Additionally, the factor of maintaining these carports was also an issue. The carports by SunPower have a 17-year warranty and, within this time, the school expects to use them for 95-percent of their energy. But, if the replacement of traditional to solar power doesn’t happen during this time, SunPower will reimburse the school district.