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.