Solar Carports: A New Source of Growth for Rooftop Solar?

India crossed the milestone of 25 GW of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, as of August 2018. Out of the installed capacity, rooftop solar PV accounts for over 2.5 GW. Compared to large-scale solar, rooftop installations are well behind. But of late solar carports are demonstrating the potential to be a source of growth for the rooftop sector.

Carports are already there and do not need any additional land and can be an efficient use of space for solar installations.

India’s largest rooftop solar carport has been developed at Cochin International Airport by Tata Power Solar. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) also has a multi-level rooftop solar carport set up at Unity One Mall in Rohini, Delhi. The carport was commissioned in November 27, 2017 and is expected to offset 438 tons of carbon emissions annually. The project falls under net‑metering program.

Carports are increasingly becoming one of the most popular rooftop solar PV installations. A source of Mercom working in the rooftop solar segment said, “We have already closed a dozen rooftop solar carport deals this year. A large automobile manufacturer has huge land which they use for truck sales and storing farm equipment in Nashik (Maharashtra), Madhya Pradesh, and Jaipur (Rajasthan). They are converting all of these facilities to solar rooftop. A multinational truck manufacturer, is converting all its parking facilities to solar rooftop. Moreover, universities and educational institutes are also slowly turning toward rooftop solar.”

In a conversation with Mercom, the source added that the commercial and industrial segment sees rooftop solar carports as a cost saving option and can also be leveraged for their sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) branding.

Explaining why the companies are choosing rooftop solar carports, the source added, “With RESCO model, firms don’t have to spend on installation anyway, so all of the car parking is given for rooftop. On one side, they are saving on constructing canopies and carparking structures as rooftop installations help in that and on the other hand, they save on power tariffs. In fact, there is a competition to “Go Green”.

According to other professionals operating in this space, in some states rooftop carports are facing policy hurdles. Some states do not recognize carports as rooftop solar installations and hence the companies opting for them cannot avail net-metering. Additionally, few states consider rooftop solar carports as ground-mount solar PV structures, and that can be an inhibitor as well.

When contacted, Andrew Hines, the co-founder of CleanMax Solar, said, “Yes, while they are still a small fraction of the overall rooftop market, we are seeing an increased appetite for solar carports relative to a few years ago. Although the interest from customers is not new – we have been getting inquiries from our corporate customers about carports for many years.”

Elaborating on the reasons behind the growth in demand of carports, Hines added, “For corporates, the driving factor behind solar carports is similar to rooftop solar in general. Corporates are interested to use whatever space they have available (roofs, land, parking spots) to achieve energy cost savings and also to achieve their sustainability objectives. Solar carports are a great way of converting otherwise unusable space into something productive. In addition to generating solar power, carports have the additional advantage of providing covered parking spaces. They also tend to be more visible than rooftop plants, because they’re closer to the ground and in areas that people use. What has accelerated adoption of solar carports is cost reductions. Compared to a conventional rooftop project, a carport installation is costlier, due to the cost of the supporting structure and foundations. So, to put it simply, rooftop solar reached “grid parity” some time ago, and solar carports have reached grid parity more recently.”

Hines also said that the same factors which have driven adoption of solar carports to date will continue to promote their further adoption.

“As solar prices come down and grid tariffs go up, the proposition only strengthens. With both rooftop solar and solar carports, customer awareness also drives accelerated adoption. As companies look around and see their peers installing rooftop solar, or solar carports, they will tend to ask themselves why they are not doing the same. I think the increasing focus on EVs will also bring attention to solar carports. While the solar modules don’t actually have to be located at the charging point, there is rightly a lot of talk about ensuring that EVs are being powered by renewable energy, and solar carports coupled with EV charging points is an obvious and visible way of addressing that question,” Hines told Mercom.

So far, CleanMax has installed more than 20 solar carports for its corporate clients across the country. These range in capacity from less than 100 kW to over 1 MW, informed Hines.

Speaking on the more granular details of solar carport execution,  Hines said, “Solar carports are fundamentally similar to rooftop solar plants, although there can be some relatively minor challenges. Safety considerations are important, since there is no pre-existing roof for installers to stand on. Sometimes the power evacuation point is not very near to the parking area, so there is a significant cabling distance, which adds to the cost. On the other hand, there are advantages to working in a vacant area rather than on an active industrial building.”

Given the ease and multifold benefits of solar carports, we could see more focus on these ‘non-conventional’ rooftops beyond buildings to provide rooftop growth going forward.

Image credit: Flickr

Saumy Prateek Saumy is a senior staff reporter with MercomIndia.com covering business and energy news since 2016. Prior to Mercom, Saumy was a copy editor at Thomson Reuters. Saumy earned his Bachelors Degree in Journalism & Mass Communication from the Manipal Institute of Communication at Manipal University. More articles from Saumy Prateek.