Dear US Solar Carport Market: Be My Valentine

MJ Shiao, 2014-02-14


Posted in: Articles


Will love carry us beyond 10% to 15% of the U.S. non-residential market?

MJ Shiao (Greentech Media)
February 14, 2014
 
Four years ago, sitting in some crowded Bay Area bar post-trade-show with Laurence Mackler of Solaire Generation, I laughed at the idea of a robust PV carport market. Mackler told me that someday I would see things differently.
 
Here we are at the beginning of 2014, and we’ve seen the third consecutive year in which PV carports have exceeded 100 megawatts-DC of annual installed capacity nationwide. The market has endured SREC crashes in New Jersey and rebate restructuring in Arizona, and has even outlasted seemingly unrelated subsidized educational bond programs that heavily benefited California projects.
 
PV carports, you’ve won my affection.
 
It’s true -- for a long while, I misunderstood you. I could only see your flaws, like how difficult it was to pass you through local approval processes, how troublesome it was to navigate landlord-tenant issues, and how expensive you seemed.
 
But you had one small champion -- the California Division of the State Architect (DSA) -- that favored you. With that approval environment, you shrewdly combined federally subsidized bonds with generous CSI incentives for public buildings in California to create the core of the 100-megawatt-per-year market you have today. Yes, your star has waned a bit in the past year, with penetration dropping by a few percentage points, but who could hold the vagaries of the New Jersey and Arizona commercial markets against you?
 
 
But of course, you wonder about my change in mood, and why I suddenly believe our love will grow. Let me count the ways:
 
--  Always wanting to contribute more, you allow consumers to offset a greater portion of their electricity load by using less space-constrained space such as the parking lot.
 
--  Quick with calculation, you’ve helped consumers realize that they can maximize total aggregate cost savings rather than just the best dollar-per-solar-kWh price with a carport system.
 
--  Being selfless as you are, you help installers create larger projects, leading to larger deal sizes and reduced costs through economies of scale.
 
--  A cost-conscious soul, your pricing has dropped tremendously in the past few years, with low pricing on structural elements approaching the $0.30 per watt-DC mark; by being more on par with rooftop systems, you’re a viable project alternative, especially compared with complex rooftop systems.
 
--  Loyal and true, you’re helping those who’ve already maxed out their roof space with their original system go solar all over again.
 
We could also talk about the sweet shade and the EV charging you could provide. But honestly, I don’t find those facets very moving, and I wouldn’t want those around you to be misled.
 
But how do I pin you down? Once you were happy spending most of your days in California, with the occasional trip to New Jersey or Arizona. Now it seems that you’re much more well traveled, venturing to New York, Massachusetts, and even Hawaii.
 
Is it because you’ve so many new suitors? Everywhere I go, I seem to hear vendors and installers touting how much they love you and how competitive they’ll make you. But stick with me, PV carports, because together I think we can hold on to 10 percent to 15 percent of the explosive U.S. non-residential market.
 
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No flowers or carports were hurt in the writing of this article.

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