The ‘Carportunity’: How our electric vehicle future means big things for solar carports

California’s Franchise Tax Board complex

Electric vehicles taking over the road is no longer a question. Sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and all-electric vehicles have surged recently. So now the question is where are all of these things going to get their juice?

A new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) quantifies how much charging infrastructure would be needed in the United States to support various market growth scenarios for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). NREL notes that most PEV charging occurs at home, but widespread PEV adoption would require the development of a national network of non-residential charging stations. Strategically installing these stations early would maximize their economic viability while enabling efficient network growth as the PEV market matures. NREL says about 8,000 fast-charging stations would be needed to provide a minimum level of urban and rural coverage nationwide.

No one asked us, but we think carport developments have a big opportunity (a carportunity!) to lead the way. The segment is seeing notable reductions in system costs and installation timelines that only make more projects viable.

Quest Renewables

The Value of Expertise

There is enough institutional knowledge among the chief carport construction companies now to give developers and larger investors confidence. Feast your eyes on California’s Franchise Tax Board complex, for example (pictured above). Developed by DGS-Building Property Management and installed by Ecoplexus at one of the largest business campuses in northern California, it is the state’s largest carport installation (10,400 PV panels), covering 1,276 employee parking spaces, spanning over 622,000 sq ft and generating 3.6 MW.

The project was made possible because of Baja Carport’s specialization in pre-engineered, pre-fabricated high-tensile, light gauge steel structures. And in chatting with its team at SPI this year, we’ve learned the company has been able to further streamline the costs of its system.

Then there is 4 S.T.E.L. and its standardized processes. Carport projects involve a ton of engineering and civil approval. 4 S.T.E.L.’s staff of engineers, project managers and drafters can design and erect a carport in their sleep at this point, but the big value comes in swift preapproval of its designs with the California Division of State Architects among other strict jurisdictions and building departments. Design preapproval can literally shave months off certain project timelines.

Park-onomics: Best practices for constructing cost-effective carport projects

Carports are certainly spreading beyond California too. At Michigan State University (MSU), Inovateus Solar is nearing completion of a 14-MW solar carport project spanning five parking lots and 700 sq ft on the East Lansing campus (pictured below). Using Schletter’s Park@Sol concept, the design is a maintenance-free, lightweight aluminum system with canopies standing 14-ft tall at the lowest point to provide enough room for recreational vehicles to park during football season. The carport install is expected to generate 15,000 MWh of electricity annually for MSU with projections showing a savings of $10 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years.

Schletter

Disruptive Designs

Key to the Schletter approach is its Micropile foundation, a hollow metal rod installed deep into the ground (pictured to the right), that requires less concrete material to accomodate even high wind and snow loads.

“The technology innovation of using Schletter micropiles as foundations and precast concrete pads, in addition to the engineering design, cut the construction schedule in half and minimized the risk factors in a rainy environment like Florida,” said Javier Latre Gorbe, VP of Technical Operations for ESA Renewables.

A newer entrant into the carport system space, Quest Renewables, has an especially exciting concept. Hatched as project at Georgia Tech Research Institute in 2011, the design received a work grant from the DOE’s SunShot Initiative and was commercialized in 2014. The hook here is a triangular support structure that requires less steel and allows for most of it to be assembled on the ground (pictured above).

Solar carports will spread across the country as costs decline

A vehicle auction company in Elkridge, Md., put in a 304-kW system and selected the Quest Renewables QuadPod to reduce foundation counts by 50 percent (using 50 percent less steel) to mitigate the poor soil conditions. From site survey to powering up, the system was completed in 45 days with minimal interruption to the parking lot. Another project in Portland, Maine, needed to minimize disruption of the work area. The 90 percent ground-level construction allowed it to be built in just eight days from start to finish. This first parking garage canopy install in Maine will sustain 112 mph winds and 50 psf of snow.

There’s a long way to go to fill in that void NREL is talking about, but it’s a start.

— Solar Builder magazine

Check out this 1.6-MW solar install for California’s Gilroy Unified School District

solar system gilroy school

If you need a reminder of the booming solar + school trend, Gilroy Unified School District (GUSD), a K-12 school district with more than 11,300 students, just completed a 1.6 MW PV system PPA expected to save $1.5 million in energy costs over 25 years. The three solar shade structure installations at Christopher High and Gilroy High will offset approximately 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually.

“Our District chose to finance the solar project via a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). We were fortunate to be able to create utility bill savings with the PPA in addition to financing the Gilroy High School parking lot remodel project,” said Superintendent Dr. Deborah A. Flores. “Borrego Solar was chosen because they offered seamless, turnkey solutions for us with PPA financing, project design, building the commercial solar systems, and managing the parking lot construction project. We felt confident in Borrego Solar’s ability to meet our project deadlines because of their in-depth experience with school districts.”

carport school borrego solar

Borrego Solar Systems, a top commercial solar company, developed, designed, and built GUSD’s solar projects: 447 kilowatts (kW) and 322 kW at Christopher High and 788 kW at Gilroy High. Borrego Solar has completed more than 14 MW of commercial solar installations across 70 sites for K-12 schools in California. The projects will produce about 2.7 million kWh of energy in the first year, which is the equivalent to the amount needed to power approximately 375 average homes annually. The solar systems are sized to offset approximately 77 percent of the current electricity usage at those two schools.

“We were impressed with GUSD’s leadership throughout the development and construction process. They worked to ensure that we could get on-site and complete the project quickly, so the district could start saving on energy sooner,” said Kyle Kearney, VP of project development, Western U.S. at Borrego Solar. “As a result, we’re celebrating the operation after just about five months of construction. Congrats to GUSD for joining a growing number of K-12 Districts in California taking advantage of solar.”

SunRaise Investments owns the installations and will sell the power to GUSD over th 25-year PPA term. Through a PPA, GUSD was able to deploy solar without any upfront capital outlay or additional costs over the system’s lifetime, while having control over their energy costs long-term.

— Solar Builder magazine

Parking Energy wants to make EV charger installation plug and play

Parking Energy EV charger

The question whether electric vehicles will become the predominant method of personal transport is no longer debated among industry experts and car manufacturers. Every major automotive brand is entering the market and many countries are abandoning fossil fuel cars entirely. But where (and how) will all of these things get their juice?

One of the major bottlenecks is the inability to provide scalable and cost-effective EV charging systems for residential and commercial buildings. Currently EV charging options are expensive and designed with single digit installations in mind. This raises the barriers for the property owners to invest in EV chargers and makes expanding the installations slow and inefficient. Parking Energy has a solution for this bottleneck.

Parking Energy Ltd is introducing new technology for electric vehicle charging in real estate based on a cabling system with Parking Energy Quick Connectors that enable chargers to be added in plug-and-play manner. The idea is for EV charger installation of any kind to take only a minute while eliminating wasteful investments.

Park-onomics: Best practices for constructing cost-effective carport projects

Parking Energy’s solution separates EV chargers from cabling and other electrical infrastructure improvements, which are long-term investments in stable technology. However, EV chargers are being developed at a fast pace to meet the changing demand characteristics and regulatory requirements.

Building EV-readiness for a whole parking garage begins by upgrading the electrical distribution center if needed. Cabling with the Quick Connectors is then brought to every parking spot. After this one-time investment the parking area is ready for the rapid installation of EV chargers of various types fitting the particular needs of the tenants. The solution can be installed in both new and old properties with indoor and outdoor parking.

The system enables a power output of up to 44 kW per Quick Connector. Currently charging unit variants are available in 3,7 kW, 7,2 kW and 22 kW power outputs. This allows users to choose a charging unit for their own need. The system will enable all future charging technologies such as inductive charging and vehicle-to-grid charging. All chargers have the identical and same rapid one-minute installation process. All chargers are sold as a service, which makes it easy to change the composition and number of chargers.

The first system using this technology has been installed in the headquarters of a leading Nordic pension insurance company with full 238 parking spaces ready for EV charging. The property has multiple tenants, whose charging needs are met by Parking Energy charging service, reducing the need for the property owner to invest time or money into the process.

“This is more than just introducing a new charging equipment to the market. This is an open technology platform which any EV charger manufacturer, charging operator or car manufacturer is can utilize from now on. It’s like the USB port for electric vehicle chargers, enabling compatibility throughout the industry. This will speed up the adoption of electric vehicles in a global scale.” – Jiri Räsänen, CEO, Parking Energy

Parking Energy is a Finnish company founded in 2014 with 20 employees. The company specializes in real-estate electric vehicle charging solutions.

— Solar Builder magazine

ForeFront Power to develop solar canopy portfolio across nine California schools

ForeFront Power and Los Altos School District (LASD) in California announced the development of 1.4 MW of solar canopy systems across nine schools. LASD selected ForeFront Power through a competitive process to provide the turn-key solar power systems. The solar portfolio is expected to save the District over $175,000 annually and up to $2.7 million within the first ten years of operation.

“LASD is excited to partner with ForeFront Power to complete these projects to reduce rising electricity costs,” said LASD Chief Business Official Randy Kenyon. “The ForeFront Power team emerged as a leader in our process due to their team’s extensive track record, sound execution strategy, and professionalism.”

ForeFront Power Logo

LASD will receive solar energy at no upfront cost, and without the use of Measure N bond funds. The project is instead financed through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with ForeFront Power. Through this agreement ForeFront is responsible for all project financing, engineering, construction, operations, and maintenance. ForeFront Power, backed by the security and stability of its parent company, Mitsui & Co., Ltd, brings exceptional value and experience to the solar project partnership.

ForeFront Power continues to coordinate the development of these projects with local school staff, parents, and District administrators to design solar arrays that work in harmony with school campus needs. In conjunction with the solar project development, LASD is launching a sustainability initiative with GreenTown Los Altos to shift drivers to bikers and walkers for more long-term sustainable transport in the District. Each of the nine schools will also receive free solar energy lesson plans and curricula through ForeFront Power’s exclusive partnership with Schools Power.

“Our team at ForeFront Power is excited to work with Los Altos in providing energy savings, shade to the parking areas, and STEM education resources,” stated Chief Development Officer, Sam Youneszadeh. “What is truly great about this particular project is that Los Altos is going beyond typical solar adoption to integrate their decision with the community through their initiative with GreenTown.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine

New distributed generation fund launched by Empower Energies, WGL Energy Systems

WGL Energy solar MassachusettsEmpower Energies and WGL Energy Systems, which operates distributed generation systems in 19 states and the District of Columbia, have launched a Distributed Generation Fund for PV solar projects, together with a leading global strategic tax equity investor.

With a two-year funding commitment, Empower and WGL Energy Systems plan to originate, develop, construct and manage rooftop, ground mount, and canopy PV solar projects through the DG Fund for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers, municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals.

“The DG Fund gives us immediate access to tax equity at a time when availability is an issue in the marketplace,” said John Clapp, Chief Financial Officer, Empower Energies. “In addition, we are able to provide construction financing and development capital for our own projects and for those of other developers looking for a financing solution. The fund structure is well-suited to the distributed generation space. We can invest in projects in Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) and non-SREC markets, as well as across the off-taker credit spectrum.”

RELATED: Park-onomics: Best practices for constructing cost-effective carport projects

 

The DG Fund enables Empower to offer a complete ‘capital stack,’ including development capital, construction finance and project buy-outs at different points during the development process, depending on the needs of the co-developer. The DG Fund also creates efficiencies for customers, simplifying the project approval process, and enabling a single point of decision, accelerating development.

Empower Energies is currently seeking high-quality PV solar project opportunities (rooftop, ground mount or canopy) for the DG Fund to augment its own project pipeline. Empower currently operates in most major solar markets across the United States.

 

— Solar Builder magazine