May 7, 2008 8:31 pm

Many corporations, including Google, are building free standing solar carports to shield employees cars from the elements and keep them cool during hot days. The latest trend in carport construction fuses solar panels with the standard cover to produce energy and provide protection! The carports are sometimes referred to as “solar trees” because they provide shade and “photosynthesize” the sun’s energy, converting it into electricity for the oft-nearby office building. Most solar car ports can shade approximately 10 cars and some of the fanciest versions include 12 volt electrical chords hung from the ceiling above each parking space (for that day when we all drive electric cars).

As a sidenote, the Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View California has over 9,212 solar panels with a 1.6 MW capacity. In recent months they have actually continued to expand onto other buildings but the main campus alone saves over $390,000 in electricity per year including the solar trees in the parking lot. Read more here.¬†Whoever killed the electric car forgot to chop down the solar tree… thank goodness :)

Benefits of Solar Energy Car Ports

These carports save energy in two ways, they keep cars cooler, thereby needing less air conditioning in the middle of the day and the feed the energy grid for local needs. Secondarily, they have great potential as a renewable energy source for buildings where people work during the day (where the most electricity is used). You can bet that more of these types of car ports will be popping up around the state of California and in other states as well.

Energy analysts have started counting the different parking lots where these solar energy carports could be installed. Some estimates say there are as much as 5 billion acres in parking lots available. Imagine the possibilities, if we equipped all of that with solar energy panels!

The Advantages

Many have suggested we put solar energy panels throughout the desert, but the advantage of using parking lots is that there are buildings nearby that use electricity. There are also nearby transformers to handle excess energy. In contrast, desert arrays of solar panels have to send the electricity long distances which causes a lot of loss and the need for infrastructure (wires, poles, etc.) to send it. The only real benefit of installing arrays in the desert is that the land is cheap… But honestly, parking lot land is usually already owned and in many cases mandated in size by local government organizations.

The Cost

While it’s true that installing solar trees requires an up front out of pocket expense, there are definitely long term benefits and opportunities for them to pay for themselves. In one example businessman Heinz Selig spent close to $250,000 to add a six vehicle carport which was equipped with solar power. In this case the federal government offered him a 30% credit, and the state also offer him a discount, plus he signed a contract to buy the power his carport generated at .15 cents per kilowatt, and that comes to a substantial savings. According to Selig, if you owe taxes, “installing solar energy panels is a no brainer”.

Just below we’ve embedded a time lapse video of the Google solar carport construction process at Google headquarters “the Googleplex” in Mountain View California:

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