- Published: May 12, 2014
- Written by Amanda H. Miller
BMW made headlines this week when it unveiled its new solar carport designed to recharge the auto manufacturer’s i8 plug-in hybrid. But solar carports are a growing business in both residential and commercial applications.
Major solar installers have been building large commercial carports in business parks and at airports for years now. But the more intimate one-car solar charging station is gaining momentum.
Dozens of companies have cropped up all over the country to take solar off the house roof. Solar carports are an opportunity to do more and different things with the technology. Solar isn’t just for utility anymore once it’s no longer hidden away on the roof of a home. It can be aesthetic. It can be portable. It can make a statement in the artistic, out-front, showy way people like to make statements.
Solar carports are turning clean energy into an accessory.
Companies like Phatport in California are growing dramatically because they dared to pull solar off the roof.
“There are three reasons people give for not going solar,” said Philippe Hartley, Phat Energy CEO. “It’s too expensive, it’s too ugly and they don’t have the roof space. We have eliminated two of those three issues.”
Phatport focuses on building aesthetically stunning solar carports, awnings, bus stops and other nontraditional applications.
Traditional solar panels are not meant to be seen from below, but designers have been working recently to change that. Those changes have given rise to several solar companies that focus almost exclusively on the growing market that doesn’t just want solar for energy, but also as a showpiece.
“People are surprised sometimes when they see this, how aesthetically pleasing the bottom of a solar panel can be,” Hartley said.
BMW certainly recognized the aesthetic value of modern solar panels when it developed its new carport. The design is stunning and the midcentury aesthetics are undeniably alluring. The new carport uses sustainable bamboo as a base material with metal joints that give it a classic look, but then tops it with a space-age solar canopy that allows natural light to filter through.
Of course, good-looking solar accessories like this are enticing, but single-car solar charging stations for electric vehicles present other market opportunities as well.
Envision Solar was featured in Atlantic Cities this month. The solar company originally gained notoriety for its Solar Trees, visually impressive pillars topped with sun-tracking solar panels that made ideal carports while also serving as showpieces.
Now Envision is gaining momentum with a new product – the EV ARC, a 9-by-16 foot solar carport that fits perfectly in a single standard parking space and on the back of a flatbed trailer. It doesn’t have to be permitted or grid connected. It can be deployed wherever and whenever it’s needed.
The innovative EV ARC provides a cheaper, easier way for businesses and perhaps even homeowners to charge electric vehicles with solar power without making the long-term commitment traditional solar installations require.
Solar carports offer a bite size chunk of solar energy, a functional showpiece and accessory that will likely represent a growing portion of the solar industry, especially as the cost of solar panels plummets and electric vehicle sales climb.