In an effort to maximize space and harness as much solar energy as possible, Google and other corporations are building solar carports. These carports are multifunctional in that they keep employees’ cars cool during the day and collect solar energy to power the nearby office building.
The carports, also called solar trees, can shade around 12 cars each. In addition, some car ports provide electrical cords hanging from the ceiling to conveniently charge electric car batteries. By keeping the cars cool during the day, they also save energy that would otherwise be used for air conditioning in the car.
Another reason that solar carports are so appealing is the acres upon acres of parking lots available for use. There are as much as 5 billion acres that could potentially be used. And not only is the space there, but it is centrally located. Rather than putting several solar farms out in the desert, which is commonly suggested, they could be located right in the urban areas where their energy would be most useful; cutting down on losses due to sending electricity over long distances and the cost of equipment with which to send that electricity.
Solar carports are certainly not cheap but, as with any solar project, it is the long-term benefits and savings that create the appeal. Up-front costs will be high, but federal and state credits and incentives can create a hefty discount and selling power to the local grid can lead to significant savings also.
And these carports are not only for commercial use. Residential customers can jump on the bandwagon as well. Life Systems, a division of Envision Solar, offers their LifePort system, which is a carport that can house two cars, as many solar panels as desired, and can be on or off the grid.