If you haven’t installed a solar carport yourself, you at least know the process—steel posts are embedded in concrete, long support spans are bolted to the posts and panels are slid into place by installers on scissor lifts. A tried-and-true installation method.
Until the Department of Energy got involved. Way back in 2011, the DOE called on the Georgia Tech Research Institute to be part of the Extreme Balance of System Hardware Cost Reduction (BOS-X) program within the SunShot Initiative. The result is an innovative carport design from Georgia Tech that has far exceeded the DOE’s expectations.
The QuadPod solar canopy is unique in that the large majority of assembly is done on the ground and the final design is lifted by crane onto posts. The system is also capable of spanning 60 ft between piers and has a 30-ft cantilever. Quest Renewables is commercially developing the product and licensing the technology from Georgia Tech.
Norman Findley, Quest’s CEO, said not only has QuadPod capitalized on the DOE’s original initiative, it has also significantly reduced labor costs.
“Our product was designed from the ground-up, solving the problem of solar installations,” Findley said. “We started with a blank sheet of paper and some DOE research. The solution is really a racking system that is built with the instruction process of solar in mind. Not just trying to make the rack with the least amount of metal, but making a system that delivers the most value to the site owners in its ease of construction.”
Concrete foundations are still used, and the QuadPod is made of the same galvanized steel as many traditional carports. QuadPod has a patented 130-ft truss design that is quickly assembled on the ground, including the solar panels. People work faster on the ground, especially when they don’t have to go up and down scissor lifts wearing fall arrest gear. The final canopy assembly is lifted by crane and attached to the concrete foundations.
And for those thinking the cost of a crane far outweighs the labor savings, Findley said assembling the QuadPod on the ground saves 50% of labor costs, and a crane typically only costs about 10% of the amount of labor. Labor savings are much greater than one would think.
Quest has had a few high-profile installations—including part of a 708-kW project in Maryland with Standard Solar and a 617.5-kW system at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta—and Findley said the company has 30 projects in the pipeline this year.
“We’ve been doing a lot of in-field verification of our systems and building larger systems to confirm that as we scale up, the efficiencies we see in labor and overall project costs do scale accordingly,” Findley said. “We’ve been building good, data-verified case studies that proved the design and work we’ve done has manifested itself into the benefits we claimed.”
If 600 kW and larger on a solar carport seems high, that’s because it is. QuadPod is positioned so it covers the drive aisles of a parking lot. Traditional carports usually just cover the long lines of parking spaces—the parking lot’s length. QuadPod spans the width instead. By covering more area, a QuadPod carport installation can fit more solar panels.
“What we really wanted to tackle was the ability to maximize the amount of wattage you could put on a site,” Findley said. “One of the ways you reduce costs is spreading the fixed costs over a larger number of watts. It costs the same amount to permit 250 kW and 500 kW. The same thing with engineering—it’s a fixed cost. If you can spread it over twice as many watts, it helps reduce your unit cost quite a bit.”
Standard Solar’s director of engineering, C.J. Colavito, said Quest’s advantages come down to time and money. Many solar canopy manufacturers are willing to do long-spans and cover drive aisles, but Quest has the process down to the best price and most efficient assembly.
“In the end, it’s about cost and timing. As an EPC, I don’t care how they do it,” Colavito said of carport installs. “I do care that they do it in a safe and a cost-efficient way. Quest has far fewer foundations than others because they can do long spans. Foundations can be half the cost of those turnkey scopes. Having fewer foundations can be a significant advantage.”
Quest is invested in making sure each QuadPod installation is done safely and accurately, so the team works with installation partners around the country with experience in solar canopy projects. Every new QuadPod installation comes with a Quest employee and a mobilization plan. Colavito said this dedication has moved Quest to the top of Standard Solar’s list of carport companies.
“We don’t work with a dozen different carport providers; we work with two or three and Quest is one of them,” Colavito said. “They provided fantastic service—some of the best I’ve received from any carport provider. They are very customer-oriented and are reasonably responsive. They worked closely with our team on design. I like the quality of their work and the coordination on site.”