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.


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

Top 7 Solar Projects of the Week (Oct. 17 – Oct. 21)

Mt Tom Solar Mt. Tom Solar to be one of the largest in Massachusetts

Mt. Tom Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of ENGIE North America, held a groundbreaking ceremony for a 5.76 megawatt solar farm on the property of the former coal-fired Mt. Tom Power Station in Holyoke, Mass.

Beginning in January 2017, Mt. Tom Solar, LLC will sell renewable energy from the facility to Holyoke Gas & Electric pursuant to a Power Purchase Agreement, which will benefit Holyoke residents.

The solar installation will be one of the largest in the state, and include more than 17,000 solar panels on about 22 acres. The solar farm represents the beneficial utilization of the property of the coal-fired Mt. Tom Power Station, which was operated by an affiliate of Mt. Tom Solar, LLC and retired in 2014.

ENGIE, which is the new name for GDF SUEZ around the world, manages a range of energy businesses in the United States and Canada, including electricity generation and cogeneration, natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) distribution and sales, retail energy sales, and serves to help customers run their facilities more efficiently and optimize energy use and expense.

Standard Solar working on Choptank Electric Cooperative project

Standard SolarStandard Solar, Inc., a solar energy company specializing in the development and financing of solar electric systems nationwide, and Choptank Electric Cooperative, Inc. recently celebrated the groundbreaking of a  503 kW, 1,596 panel system.

Built by Standard Solar on a 1.2 acre field, the project is expected to produce 706 MWh per year and will provide electricity for Choptank Electric Cooperative’s Regional Service Center which hosts operations serving members on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore.

The solar project and other energy efficient technologies will assist the Cooperative in achieving LEED Silver Certification for its new building.

Utility-scale solar+storage project breaks ground in New England

massachusetts solarStakeholders from across Massachusetts and New England joined the Sterling Municipal Light Department to celebrate the groundbreaking of the first utility-scale energy storage facility in Massachusetts. The 2-megawatt, 3.9 megawatt-hour battery storage system, to be installed at Sterling’s Chocksett Road Substation, will be able to “island” from the grid during a power outage and, with the support of existing solar generation, provide up to 12 days of backup power to the town’s police station and dispatch center, a critical facility providing first responder services.

In addition to the resilient power benefits, the town will also save on energy costs over the project’s lifespan due to the grid services the batteries will provide. Site construction will start in the fall of 2016, and the project is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2016. This 2-megawatt project effectively doubles the installed battery storage capacity in Massachusetts.

RELATED: Rooftop to Battery: the case for convenience and safety when designing Solar+Storage 

“The lessons learned from this project will be valuable in determining the economics of energy storage in various applications, in addition to helping understand the system metrics that are most important in determining system reliability and safety,” said Dan Borneo, principal program/ project lead at Sandia National Laboratories.

The project is being led by Sterling Municipal Light Department, with batteries supplied by NEC Energy Solutions. Project funding included a $1.46 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Canadian Solar donates panels to microgrid project in the Congo

canadian-solar-logoCanadian Solar Inc. worked with Empowered by Light, in partnership with the GivePower Foundation, to donate 30-kW solar panels with 72 poly cell matrix, the CS6X-P, to the first mini-grid systems in Virunga National Park — installed in August 2016.

Located in the Eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Virunga National Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Virunga National Park is home to a large portion of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, Okapis, and other rare species. In recent years, many wildlife populations have been damaged by the Congo Civil War and relentless poaching efforts. Due to the efforts by the Virunga park rangers, these numbers have shown signs of reversal, and Canadian Solar is proud to be part of the continued protection.

This mini-grid PV system provides electricity to the three security sectors within the conservation, powering security lights, radios, and helping enhance the ranger’s ability to protect the park’s wildlife, even in remote areas at night.

RELATED: Canadian Solar orders one of the largest single-project deployments of DC optimizers 

Exoplexus solar north carolina

Three utility-scale installs in North Carolina via Ecoplexus

Ecoplexus Inc. started construction on three more ground-mounted installations in North Carolina. The Baker, Benthall Bridge, and Turkey Creek Solar Parks represent a combined investment of more than $45 million. These facilities will be interconnected into Dominion North Carolina Power’s electrical grid, increasing the capacity of clean energy the utility has to distribute around the state. These projects will provide 50 gigawatt-hours of clean electricity annually.

Ecoplexus develops and operates utility scale solar PV projects for the wholesale and retail market in the U.S., and internationally. The Company has constructed and financed over fifty projects to date, representing approximately $350 million in project value. Customers include eight major utilities including PG&E, Duke, Progress, Xcel Energy, and Georgia Power and approximately fifteen municipalities in the US, as well as major International utilities.

RELATED: Problem Solvers: Solar site issues solved by the right mounting solution 

Largest PV project on Virginia public schools complete

Secure Futures solarSecure Futures LLC, and the Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) co-hosted a dedication ceremony at Monticello High School for the largest installed solar PV array on a public school system in the Commonwealth of Virginia, totaling 1.1 MW on six Albemarle schools. VirginiaGovernor Terry McAuliffe keynoted the event, highlighting how this project supports the Commonwealth’s energy and economic development goals.

The Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between Secure Futures and ACPS represents a milestone in Virginia, as the first solar installation on a public school system in the Commonwealth under the 2013 Pilot PPA Program legislation. With zero capital investment by ACPS and annual savings projections of $3,800, the system will provide 22% of the annual electricity requirements for the six schools it serves.

Under the 20-year PPA, Secure Futures builds, owns, operates and maintains the solar photovoltaic system, and sells the solar electricity to ACPS. SolarWorld Americas provided the panels, engineering, procurement, and construction management for the project.


Goodwill HQ celebrates 959-kW PV system

WGL Energy solar MassachusettsHorizon Goodwill Industries will host a ribbon cutting event to celebrate a 959.5 kW solar project recently completed and owned by WGL Energy Systems. The fully installed solar system consists of 1,170 ground mounted and 1,876 roof mounted solar panels installed at the Horizon Goodwill Headquarters in Hagerstown, MD.

WGL Energy Systems will own the project and sell electricity to Horizon Goodwill under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). New Energy Equity, based in Annapolis, MD and RER Energy Group, based in Frederick, MD developed the project for Horizon Goodwill, and Pfister Energy, based in Baltimore, MD completed the engineering and construction of the project. Horizon Goodwill estimates they will save $950,000 over the life of the 25-year project.

The solar project is expected to produce approximately 1.2 million kWh of electricity per year.

See last week’s Top Projects!

— Solar Builder magazine

Ecoplexus to construct 25-MW project in North Carolina

Ecoplexus North Carolina

Ecoplexus Inc. announced the closing of financing for a 25-MW solar PV project in Whitakers, N.C. The project will be installed with approximately 150,000 Solar Frontier modules and will achieve commercial operation in late 2015. Its completion will mark the ninth Ecoplexus project in North Carolina and a total of 53 MW in Q4 2015. Representing $45 million in project costs, the project increases Ecoplexus’ current IPP asset base which will stand at 77 MWs by year-end.

Ecoplexus develops, owns and operates solar PV projects for the utility and industrial markets in the U.S. and Japan via its wholly owned subsidiary Ecoplexus Japan KK. The company has developed and financed over 50 projects to date. Customers include major utilities such as PG&E, Duke, Progress, Xcel Energy, and Georgia Power and approximately 15 municipalities in the U.S.

RELATED: North Carolina hits 1 GW of solar capacity (we start slow clap) 

The project has a signed long-term PPA contract with Dominion North Carolina Power. Once fully operational, the system will provide North Carolina with approximately 40 GWh of clean electricity annually, enough to power an estimated 3,800 households. The renewable power generated will offset 27,404 metric tons of CO2 emissions, equivalent to the emissions sequestered from nearly 23,000 acres of forest annually.

“We are pleased to contribute to Dominion’s renewable energy portfolio and play a role in providing North Carolinians with affordable clean energy,” said John Gorman, CEO of Ecoplexus. “With our office in Durham, NC and our projects in the region, we are committed to delivering real and lasting benefits to North Carolina and neighboring states.”

Charles Pimentel, COO of Solar Frontier Americas commented, “We are pleased our advanced CIS modules were selected for this PV project developed by Ecoplexus, a company dedicated to building high quality, clean-energy plants.”


— Solar Builder magazine