Solar Canopy Structures: Making The Best Use Of Open Spaces For Producing Clean Energy

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Unlike fossil fuels, the sun produces enough energy each second to sustain our power needs for 500,000 years. And this unrelenting emission of energy isn’t the sole positive aspect of incorporating solar energy into your homes. And solar canopies are the most economical way of setting up solar panels into your home, giving your clean energy while also freeing up space in your homes.

Solar technology is here to stay and has become an integral part of our home and workplace. This has led businesses and homeowners to find ways to integrate solar power production into their properties. The solar canopy is one of the best ideas in a long time, making dual use of open space.

A solar canopy is essentially a rigid, static frame that is capable of holding solar panels that connect to a power grid.  

Solar Canopy

They are environmentally sustainable and will not pollute your environment or run out like fossil fuels. They make economic sense too, as the recurring cost of solar power supply is practically zero.

For instance, while a simple canopy or a carport is useful for simple shading, it still is a structure of missed opportunity, providing only a one-dimensional benefit. Combining these structures with solar energy generation is a good way to make double use of that space.

Benefits Of A Solar Canopy

Every time you park under a carport or an awning, you are standing under an opportunity to harness a bit more solar energy.

The static nature of a solar canopy makes them highly dependable and they last for decades with minimum maintenance, even more than ground-mounted installation. Both the solar canopy and the ground-mounted solar arrays are attached to the earth and use solar panels that are angled to use the maximum sunlight.

A solar canopy is used to describe many diverse solar structures such as solar carports, patio covers, gazebos, and pergolas. What they have in common is these solar canopies are designed to permit functional use of the space underneath such installations. This is the key advantage of solar canopies over ground-mounted or rooftop installations.

But the difference between ground-mounted panels and a solar canopy lies in the usage of land. Ground-mounted systems are just three to seven feet off the ground. This makes it difficult to use the land beneath for anything useful.

The solar canopy generates the same amount of power as the ground-mounted ones, while also providing shelter and shade for people and vehicles beneath. Thus, the land beneath is totally usable, and it has been engineered and designed to be such.

Multiples Use For A Solar Canopy

Solar Canopy

The solar canopy is a structure that is visible in various places such as parks, parking lots, farms, and roofs. Some major places where the solar canopy is used are service stations and parking lots.

Solar canopies in parking lots both protect the vehicles while also generally protecting the vehicles from the elements.  Facilities that have expansive parking lots outdoors, such as hospitals, shopping centers, airports, stadiums, and amusement parks, are suited for the installation of solar canopies. A solar canopy can meet an extensive part of its energy requirements without being obtrusive.

Also read: Community Solar: Uniting For A Sustainable Future

Using A Solar Canopy In An Urban Milieu

Service stations too are beginning to have a solar canopy. As service stations have a cover protecting the fuel dispensing facility. Upgrading to a solar canopy is a sound step and can even be used to power electric vehicles directly.

Train stations and bus shelters have expansive coverings over their facilities. Converting to a solar canopy can potentially generate a huge amount of electricity. San Francisco has already taken the lead and installed solar canopies in hundreds of bus shelters that are linked to the main power grid.

Solar Canopy

Such panels are being used to power digital displays, charging outlets, safety lighting, and speakers for the visually impaired. These features add up to a lot of saving in power bills for the utilities.

The traditional use of panels on rooftops blocks them from other uses. And rooftops add up to a lot of urban space, almost a fifth of the entire space. Rooftops are a great opportunity to roll back emissions.

But blocking the rooftops has been an issue for most people. Going for a solar canopy instead opens up a host of openings for social and business uses, like meetings and parties. Green roofs can also accommodate a solar canopy as they can be used for plants that favor a shadier place.

Use Of A Solar Canopy In Crop Fields

Innovative use of solar panels is in crop fields. It might seem an unlikely pairing, but are very much complementary. The use of agrivoltaic systems is characterized by the combined production of crops and photovoltaic power in the same area.

The coexistence of crops and solar panels involves the sharing of light. A solar canopy placed above part of the crops generates shade and creates a microclimate required by many crops. This results in less water requirement for the crops, more freshness, and saving of water due to less evaporation.

Agrivoltaic installations protect against climate disruptions. A solar canopy of fields can protect against extreme temperatures, both frost, and heatwaves. They are useful both in greenhouses that require temperature control, and even in open fields with a reduction in temperature amplitudes due to shading during high temperatures and the greenhouse effect during frost.

An extensive installation of a solar canopy can also protect against hail storms. Other advantages of the use of a solar canopy in fields include the reduction in water consumption through the reduction in the loss of plant moisture. Irrigation in the crops is also an added benefit of a solar canopy.

Even when no irrigation is required, solar canopies can open up significant opportunities to power mills, agricultural equipment, cold storage units, and water purifiers, which all contribute to increased revenues. Farmers can even supply excess power to the grid, thereby turning solar power to become a ‘remunerative harvest.’

Solar Canopies Over Pavements And Other Open Urban Areas

Solar Canopy

The US has vast open urban areas, especially pavements. Research has shown that 35% to 50% of most city surfaces are uncovered pavements. And 40% of the pavements are parking lots. This has a negative effect when the sun beats down directly on them.

The sun’s energy is absorbed by the concrete and asphalt.  This retained heat contributes to the ‘urban heat island effect.’ This makes cities hotter than surrounding areas. Covering these areas with solar canopies is an effective way to generate energy and control this heat effect.

Also read: Solar Net Metering: Storing Power For Later Use 

Pavements can thus be utilized instead to cool down the cities and simultaneously generate green electricity if the paved areas are covered with solar canopies.

Their effectiveness was demonstrated at a parking lot in Rutgers University. A solar canopy installed over present lots produces 8 megawatts of clean power. This supplies 63% of the total needs of the Livingston campus at the university.

A similar solar parking project in Massachusetts will help reduce 32,000 tons of emissions each year. This is equal to burning 15,400 tons of coal.

Decentralizing Power Generation And Transmission

Solar Canopy

A solar company helps create multiple options for decentralizing the production of energy. This helps homes and businesses stay insulated from massive failures in the grid, and disruptive outages of power such as the one regularly occurring due to forest fires across California, and other parts of the Western US.

With extreme weather events becoming more common, it is prudent to decentralize these self-contained and self-sufficient solar systems that contribute to the building of climate resilience.

The shade provided by such extensive solar canopies has additional benefits of keeping the cities cooler. These installations over car parks help keep cars cool and thus save fuel expenses by doing away with the need for air-conditioning at full power to cool the cars. This again helps in cutting greenhouse emissions.

Solar Carports: The Most Common Canopy Structure

One of the most common types of solar canopies are the parking canopies called solar carports. They are being increasingly installed in the parking lots of commercial establishments such as shopping centers, malls, supermarkets, and fuel stations which are also serving as charging centers for electric vehicles.

These solar carports have additional advantages. They do not involve extra real estate. They can conveniently be built over the existing spaces for parking. Permissions are also easier here as such spaces are held by private commercial entities.

Solar carports are a substitute for installing solar panels on rooftops, which are not always conceivable due to design or structural issues.

They offer an improved customer experience as they provide shelter from the elements. The solar carports also have a visual effect of reminding customers of the commitment of the established to sustainability.

These installations cannot just meet the total commercial requirements of the establishments, they can even be a source of revenue as excess energy can be sold to the grid.

Also read: Powerhouse: Making Solar Energy More Accessible Through A Breakthrough Support Program

A residential solar carport is another form of solar canopy installed at homes. They are particularly convenient for owners of electric vehicles as they can both be a charging station and a parking spot. When the car is not in the carport, the excess energy can be used for personal consumption or uploaded to the main grid to gain bill credits.

Carports are best for urban homeowners who do not want solar panels installed on the rooftops for functional or aesthetic reasons. Neither do urban landowners wish to block expensive land by installing solar panels on ground mounts. A solar carport is the best option in such cases.

A solar carport thus offers a protected parking area in the absence of existing garage space. They also offer a cheap and free alternative to recharge your electric car using renewable energy. The cost of charging with solar is much less than with electricity from the grid, even factoring in the cost of the installation. It saves your rooftop from being blocked by solar panels.

Overcoming The Prohibitive Costs Of Solar Canopies

The major drawback of installing an extensive network of solar canopies is the high costs involved. For instance, installing a solar canopy over a parking lot is 30% more than a ground mount system of racking in open fields. Regions with strong winds and snow cause additional difficulties and solar canopies are more difficult to maintain in these regions.

But government incentives play a major role here. States that have a robust system of supporting solar initiatives have witnessed a healthy development in solar canopies such as in parking lots and pavements.

Strong growth in the installation of solar installation will also lead to a healthy drop in expenses.

Other Forms Of Solar Canopy structures

A solar canopy serving as a parking lot might seem the only option. But other solar canopy structures offer great flexibility, based on your requirement. Patio covers, solar gazebos, and pergolas are other types of solar canopies that are flexible options outdoors, such as backyard gardens and parks.

Such structures serve as a shelter for people ad pets to relax. They can also have seating arrangements and can be used for barbecues and picnics.

Some Major Solar Projects Using Solar Canopies

There have been great models that serve as a guide for future planners and investors in solar canopy structures.  The solar canopy structure at Euro Disney is among the world’s largest and will be up and running by 2023. The solar power structures will cover a thousand spaces for parking. 17% of the power for the resort will come through solar thus preventing the emission of 750 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

5 years back, Total Energy began transforming their service stations, covering them with solar canopies. At present, over a thousand service stations are powered by solar canopy structures. They plan to expand it to around 5,000, covering 57 counties. That is around 30% of their total network.

The Botanical garden in New York has 8 arching canopies that are elegant and functional. It is a place that allows visitors to rest and recharge their devices.

India has thousands of miles of irrigation canals for its massive agricultural needs. A light suspension system manufactured by P4P from Colorado helps these canals generate clean power. These solar canopy systems can span canals that are over 300 feet wide. The shade also prevents the evaporation of irrigation water in the drought-prone regions of India, helping climate resiliency.

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