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Are you ready to jump on the solar energy savings train? A solar carport may be just what you need to get started.

What is a solar panel carport?

A solar carport is a structure consisting of a solar-paneled roof supported by posts. It serves the dual purposes of protecting your car and provides a large surface area you can cover with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems convert sunlight directly into electricity. If you have an electric vehicle, then a solar carport can recharge the car. If not, the PV panels direct the power to your home or the utility grid.

What are the differences in residential and commercial solar panel carports?

Not surprisingly residential solar carports are generally smaller. A home carport covers one or two passenger vehicles and provides electricity for home use. If the PV panels generate more electricity than you need then you can either store it with solar batteries or sell to the grid. Home solar carports can qualify for the federal solar tax credit.

In contrast, a commercial solar carport covers a parking lot. It may protect hundreds of automobiles or just a few. Business-class solar carports do not qualify for the federal solar tax credit, but the installation may qualify the company for other local or state benefits.

Chris Meehan in his article on Solar-Estimate about solar carports explores the eligibility of commercial solar carports for the solar tax credit. The IRS cracked down on the eligibility of commercial solar carports for the solar tax credit after shopping centre owners started to use it as a back door way to cover their car parks and offer an extra convenience to their shoppers. I don't really agree with the stance of the IRS or why commercial solar carports were singled out, as shopping centers use large amounts of power. The fact that a solar array on a structure served a second use of providing shade to cars should not exclude them.

How do you get a solar panel carport installed?

Most city and county governments require a building permit before you build a structure on your property. There is also paperwork to fill out at your local utility company. Once you have the government approvals in place, you can hire a licensed electrical contractor to start building your solar panel carport.

How much do solar panel carports cost?

Do you want to know the cost of installing a solar carport or setting up a full power system? The price will differ depending on how much power you want to generate and your geographic location. You can use our wizard to get an estimate. At a minimum, you will need a solar inverter, framing system for the panels, and professional installation. As a very rough estimate, the cost of a single solar panel in the US has decreased to around $1 a watt over the last few years.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are thinking about building a solar carport yourself, check with a tax attorney before you start to make sure that you will still qualify for the tax deduction. In some cases, DIY solar projects do not qualify.

Are solar carports worth it?

Like many home improvement projects, the answer depends on your circumstances. If you are planning to move soon, then you will not have time to recoup the cost of installation through generated electricity. However, the installation might increase the value of your home so that you would make a profit when you sell your house even if you do move. On the other hand, if you plan to be in your home for the foreseeable future, and see the benefits of renewable energy and going solar, a solar carport project can be very profitable because the energy savings will pay for itself over time and the additional capital value of your home will be all profit.

The amount of energy produced by a solar carport is a complex formula. Here are the main things that influence the amount of power generated:

  • Geography 
  • Seasonal Variances 
  • Roof Tilt and Direction

Will your carport get you the solar tax credit?

The solar tax credit allows a federal tax deduction of 30 percent of the amount you spend on installing a qualified solar energy system or solar water heater. This includes solar carports.

What other projects qualify for the solar tax credit?

Other qualified alternative energy equipment that qualifies for the solar tax credit include:

  • Fuel cell property
  • Small wind energy property
  • Geothermal heat pumps

You may be thinking "but those aren't solar". Even though many people call it the solar tax credit, the official name from the IRS is Residential Efficient Property Credit (Section 25D). The tax credit covers multiple types of alternative energy projects.

What are the top benefits of going solar?

Going solar helps your wallet and protects our shared earth. Solar energy is renewable and doesn't destroy the environment like fossil fuels do. On a financial level, there are several solar incentives:

  • 30 percent federal tax credit
  • Local solar rebates from your county or utility company
  • State solar rebates
  • State tax credits
  • Solar feed-in tariff where the utility company pays you for the electricity you sell back to the grid
  • Lower utility bills

How long does it take for your solar projects to pay themselves off?

This is another question that depends on the average amount of kWh produced by a one-kilowatt solar power system per day. Solar savings is often called an avoided cost. The initial cost of installation is pricey, but you start saving money on your electric bill immediately. The average monthly and lifetime solar savings add up. The average payback period is about 9 years. Then you start to turn a profit. After 25 years you may have a gain ranging from $15k to $40k.