How Solar Power Is the Future of Parking Lots

03.29.22

Solar power has grown in popularity throughout the last decade, becoming an attractive option for many businesses looking to save money and make their operations more eco-friendly. The increased attention paid to solar power is partly due to this renewable energy solution becoming more accessible than ever. In fact, the cost to install solar electricity solutions has dropped by 70% over the past 10 years.

Despite this, less than 1% of commercial power demands are served by on-site solar energy. Research shows that most solar facilities are installed on croplands, grasslands, and arid lands. However, solar photovoltaics (PV) can also open up a world of possibilities for urban areas and commercial and industrial facilities. Utilizing carports equipped with solar power in parking lot structures is one of many ways to do so.

Learn more about rooftop solar parking lots and how solar energy can benefit business operations.

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How Does Solar Parking Work?

Integrating solar power into a parking facility involves installing solar-powered parking structures on the property. These perform various functions, such as absorbing the sun's rays to use as power, cooling the surrounding area, and cooling visitors' vehicles. This type of parking structure consists of a supporting construction with solar panels mounted on top. Its main purpose is to generate power, but it also offers shade and protection from weather elements like snow and hail. 

Because of their multipurpose functionality, solar carports are excellent investments for business owners wanting effective and aesthetically pleasing parking lot solutions or architects looking to give their clients the best in weather protection and energy savings.

The energy the solar panels collect is converted into electricity, which the building can use for numerous tasks. These tasks might include powering components like:

  • Lights
  • Appliances
  • HVAC machines
  • Business equipment
  • Charging ports for electric vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) are another solution for decreased energy usage and reduced emissions that is steadily becoming popular. Still, owners of these cars often face issues finding available charging ports. A new wave of solar parking canopies with built-in EV charging ports can cater to a growing demographic of consumers and expand businesses' reach. Retail stores, in particular, may even see increased bottom lines from customers spending extra time shopping while their EVs charge.

Solar panel parking canopies can be especially useful for larger buildings with more expansive lots. The increased surface area the panels cover allows facilities to receive more solar energy, reducing their on-grid power consumption. 

Additionally, tax savings from investing in renewable energy means companies can install these parking canopies on their properties and subsequently take advantage of tax credits and deductions. This option can make the installation even more cost-advantageous in addition to the reduced electric bill.

Considerations of Solar Parking Installation

Depending on how big a carport is and how many solar panels it will hold, business owners can see increased energy and monetary savings. Those savings also apply when installing more than one parking structure. It's essential to consider how many carports are best to integrate into a facility to get the ideal return on investment from the project. 

As an architect or facility owner, it's also necessary to think about what types of vehicles will be using the parking structures — small passenger cars, small trucks, or large delivery trucks? This answer will dictate the size of the carports. It might also be necessary to account for large vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks that will need increased room for adequate access around parking structures.

In some cases, building an entirely new parking structure can be avoided if keeping costs down is a main priority. If the facility already has carports that the owner wants to keep, these can be fitted with solar panels, which can save even more money compared to creating a new solution. 

Advantages of Solar Parking Lots

Business parking solar panels offer numerous benefits for facility owners and parking lot users alike. Below are some of the most notable advantages of utilizing solar-powered rooftop solutions for parking lot structures:

1. Reduced Energy Usage

Using an independent energy source like solar PV means facilities don't have to rely on as much electricity from the grid, resulting in decreased usage of fossil fuels. Both commercial and residential buildings contribute 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, of which 18% comes from electricity usage, and nearly 13% originates from direct fossil fuels used for tasks like cooling and heating. 

Chipping away at these numbers by using renewable power can protect the environment and offer more sustainable business operation models.

The power doesn't have to stop after the sun sets, either. Battery storage allows solar PVs to store energy after the sun goes down so facilities can continue receiving the necessary electricity to complete tasks. Some businesses may choose to participate in net metering, which involves sending excess solar energy to the grid, while others businesses may choose to store that power for later use. Either way, reduced electricity costs are possible.

2. Lower Electricity Costs

Decreased on-grid power utilization means lower electric bill payments. Saving money is a perk most businesses enjoy, and solar energy can help accomplish that. Research from EnergySage revealed that, on average, commercial property owners could save up to 75% with solar power solutions. Additionally, power purchase agreements (PPAs) help many facility owners adopt solar energy without needing to invest their own money into these solutions, letting them reap the benefits for less.

The upfront expenses of solar installation can soon be made back with the increased monetary savings from reducing electricity usage, which shows how this investment can quickly prove its value.

3. Enhanced Customer Experience

Customers and other visitors enjoy the convenience of having a shaded, well-protected place to park their vehicles, which may improve their opinion of the business. Rooftop solar parking lots can save a company money, and they can even do the same for parking lot visitors by keeping their cars cool in hotter months and reducing the need to run the air conditioner for as long as they might otherwise need to. 

Running a vehicle's AC during extremely hot weather can reduce its fuel economy by 25%, and this effect can be even more pronounced for people who drive hybrids or EVs. Potentially offsetting this phenomenon with shaded parking solutions can make a company more attractive to visitors, as they understand that the business owner prioritizes their comfort.

People appreciate being able to choose shaded parking spaces in hot weather, and these solar canopies remain useful during the cold season. Individuals can get in and out of their vehicles without being rained or snowed on and potentially avoid car damage from elements like hail.

4. Increased Sustainability

If a business is looking to get Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, it can more easily achieve it by adopting solar energy initiatives. Incorporating renewable energy solutions is one of many ways to get certified. It can earn a company up to seven points, which go toward the total point count that ultimately determines its LEED certification level. 

To be eligible to receive the LEED On-Site Renewable Energy Credit, a facility must meet certain requirements, including:

  • Offsetting building energy expenses with renewable power sources
  • Calculating project performance by monitoring the energy produced and saved
  • Determining the estimated electricity usage by identifying the facility's yearly energy costs

Solar canopies can also help facilities stay compliant with any renewable energy mandates and policies from their local governments and take advantage of state or federal incentives.

Implementing and upholding green business initiatives can also have consumer-based benefits. Environmental conservation and preservation efforts have become more attractive to the average consumer. Around 85% of individuals surveyed in a global study indicated they have moved toward more sustainable buying habits within the past five years. Sustainability has also become a purchasing necessity for 60% of consumers, and this buying behavior only increases with younger generations like millennials and Generation Z.

Subsequently, if people know a company is using solar PV parking structures to make a genuine attempt at reducing its environmental impacts, they may be more inclined to do business with that brand.

5. Utilization of Existing Land

Hosting solar facilities on existing urban land rather than unused plots can be a better option in the effort to preserve undeveloped land and protect biodiversity. Setting up solar facilities on undeveloped land often calls for the relocation of certain animal species and land reconstruction efforts like bulldozing, which can have far-reaching detrimental effects. 

In contrast, constructing solar power solutions on land that's already been used for urban development, such as buildings and parking lots, can diminish these risks to biodiversity and local animal habitats. These developed areas are close to local consumers, making sustainability efforts more visible. Parking lots, in particular, offer a lot of available space. With room already available for solar canopies, the main requirement is getting facility owners to implement these structures.

6. More Revenue From Covered Parking Spots

In addition to the cost savings associated with lowered electricity use, business owners who provide paid parking can charge a premium for covered solar parking spaces. People may be willing to pay more for the convenience of shaded parking to help protect their vehicles from the elements.

Adding solar carports can also enhance a business's aesthetic appeal, which can encourage customers to spend more on parking. They may be more likely to trust they'll get their money's worth from a company that presents itself well.

Solar Covered Parking Applications

Solar panel parking structures can fit various applications due to their versatility, multifunctionality, and wide range of benefits. No matter what type of commercial construction project an architect is working on or what kind of facility an individual owns, it can likely be an excellent fit for a set of covered parking structures.

Below are just a few industries and building types that can use and significantly benefit from a solar panel parking lot.

1. Retail

Retail buildings like grocery stores and shopping malls see hundreds of visitors each day, meaning facility owners can reap more benefits by installing many solar parking canopies to accommodate these consumers. After a long shopping trip, not everyone looks forward to standing in the hot sun or in the rain to load their purchases into their vehicle, but roofed parking structures can make the process more comfortable.

People may also spend more time in a store when they don't have to worry about beating the rain or leaving before the hottest part of the day, which can result in them making more purchases.

2. Auto Dealerships

Protect fleets during inclement weather by covering them with solar canopies. The last thing any dealership owner wants is for their vehicles to be damaged by hail or debris thrown by strong winds, which can cost them lots of money in repairs. Covering vehicles on the lot can help reduce the risk of damage. 

Dealerships with a focus on EVs and hybrid cars can proudly show their commitment to green energy by investing in solar-powered parking, which can assist in portraying a cohesive brand message of sustainability and energy savings. 

3. Warehouses

Warehouses store and move a lot of products, some of which may require specific storage temperatures or specialized material handling machines for processing. Both of these aspects of warehousing often demand a significant amount of energy, including automation solutions like storage and retrieval systems and temperature control systems. 

In the U.S., warehouses consume 6.1 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per square foot annually, with heating and lighting accounting for 76% of all energy consumption. Refrigerated warehouses use 24.9 kWh of electricity at the same rate. 

By installing renewable power sources like solar carports, warehouse managers can decrease their use of on-grid electricity and complete these energy-intensive tasks with greener power options. Since power consumption often takes up 15% of a warehouse's budget, cutting this usage down can spell major monetary savings for operations.

4. Transportation

Solar parking structures can offer considerable value for transportation spaces like airports, rental car facilities, train stations, and other applicable buildings. Especially for places like airports, travelers may have to leave their cars behind for extended periods, and people want to know that their vehicles will be protected while they're gone. This aspect applies to vehicle security, but it's also relevant for protection against harsh weather.

By absorbing sunlight, solar canopies can safeguard vehicles against damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays sustained from sitting under the sun. Cars without UV stabilizers are more susceptible to UV damage like fading. In a similar vein, people waiting at train stations can have a reduced risk of getting skin damage from UV rays when they have plenty of shade options available. This way, facility owners can help protect both their visitors and their visitors' investments.

5. Manufacturing

Keep delivery trucks and essential equipment from overheating at manufacturing facilities by using parking canopy solutions. Canopies can also be useful for employees who have to load delivery trucks for many hours in harsh weather. Much like other facilities, manufacturing companies can also lower operating costs and subsequently make room in their budgets for higher-priority tasks by adopting renewable energy. 

6. Office Buildings

Corporations gain a competitive edge by installing comfortable canopied parking for clients, employees, and other visitors. Potential employees may be more interested in an employer that considers their comfort, safety, and ease of access when entering the property. Employers can also add accessories to covered parking structures, like lighting solutions and cameras, to enhance utility and help provide individuals with additional peace of mind while in the parking lot before and after work.

Plus, the energy the solar PV produces can be used within the office building to power numerous appliances and equipment at a lowered cost.

Why Choose VPS for Solar Parking?

A parking lot with solar-paneled structures provides shade, sustainability, and increased cost-efficiency. In addition to those advantages, parking lot owners can also receive superior hail protection when choosing solutions from VPS.

VPS is the market leader in producing covered parking solutions that help protect against hail damage and other forms of inclement weather. When architects and business owners work with VPS, they can enjoy the efficiency involved in every step of our comprehensive process:

  • Conceptual design: Our space optimization and design skills, along with a combination of powerful software, enables us to plan projects from beginning to end with efficiency in mind. During the conceptual design stage, we define project feasibility and develop the project scope.
  • Project design: Our Design & Engineering Department uses 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software to create the parking structures' geometry, which we then develop design drawings from. Once these are complete, we send them to the client for approval. Clients can rest assured knowing that all our designs adhere to local building code requirements, as well as the International Building Code (IBC).
  • Project management: Project managers from VPS have years of expertise in facilitating all aspects of streamlined parking canopy construction projects. Our managers can accommodate retrofits and new building projects, helping clients get their desired solutions no matter the situation.
  • Steel fabrication: To ensure clients get the highest-quality products we have to offer, we own a cutting-edge steel fabrication facility that produces innovative, durable constructions. Our facility is certified by the International Accreditation Service (IAS).
  • Fabric fabrication: We optimize our parking structures' fabrics for the ultimate weather protection against hail. We can use materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), depending on the client's specifications.
  • Construction: The Construction Management team at VPS installs the finished parking structures using a method that provides little disruption to the business's operations. We handle all aspects of construction, including drilling, surveying, steel erection, and finishing.

Covered parking solutions from VPS are typically 15% to 20% of the cost of other rooftop commercial parking projects, such as adding another deck onto a parking garage. For that reason, business owners can save more money by investing in a solar panel parking lot project from VPS compared to building a full rooftop parking deck enclosure.

Contact VPS to Start a Solar Parking Lot Project

VPS specializes in providing covered parking solutions for hail, UV, and heat protection for a wide variety of industries  from retail stores to large airports. We can work on any size project and easily accommodate larger custom jobs. As experts in asset protection, we help our clients craft the structures they need to help keep customers, employees, and facility visitors comfortable and satisfied — all while improving their energy efficiency and bottom line with the benefits of solar PV.

To begin planning a solar parking lot project with VPS or learn more about our capabilities, get in touch with us today.

 

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