The solar carport market is expanding, meaning this high-profile racking is entering new territories. Canopies are viable structures for energy resiliency; they can deploy atop parking lots and commercial garages and are more frequently meeting financing requirements for power purchase agreements. We’re joined by Finn Findley, CEO, and Danny Kraft, director of customer development, at Quest Renewables, a commercial and utility racking company specializing in carports. Finn and Danny are here to discuss how the market is changing for solar canopy systems and how EPCs and developers can anticipate those changes and include carports in their portfolios.
Below is a portion of Quest Renewables’ Solar Spotlight podcast with Solar Power World, but be sure to listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast app.
How have you all seen the solar carport market change over the past several years?
FF: There’s no doubt the canopy market is growing really quickly, and the growth is really durable, meaning there’s a lot of tailwind supporting it. So even when you come up with the big headwind we did in the last year, with the supply chain challenges that affected everybody, we still had our biggest year. We built our biggest project.
On the other hand, folks in the industry know the growth is geographically inconsistent, meaning one market is doing a lot of carports and another is not. That’s at least how I see it.
DK: I agree that it’s geographically inconsistent. A lot of that is policy-driven, weather-driven, customer-driven, really. The Northeast and the Southwest, opposite ends of the United States, the lower 48 seem to be the most advanced when it comes to canopies and it’s the sunny Southwest and it’s the snowy Northeast, and a lot of that being policy driven.
What causes the market to be geographically inconsistent?
DK: It really seems to be feast or famine and there’s really three factors that we look at to assess if there’s an opportunity and what drives this inconsistency. One of them being the cost of energy. Where energy is expensive, companies and consumers in general are looking to reduce their power costs, so they go to solar largely based on what the incentives are. Massachusetts with the SMART program, having carport incentives; the new IRA is going to help the broader U.S., I believe. But it’s cost of energy, it’s policy, wind and snow conditions. When you get into the Midwest, you’re looking at 50-lb snow, you’re looking at some significant steel costs to hold up panels.
Another driver is really land use, which a lot of times drives policy, where states and areas don’t want to take agricultural land out of use or chop down woods to support panels. So you see developers vying for space where rooftops are unavailable and there’s a lot of impervious surface that’s already been taken out of its natural condition, it’s a perfect situation for a canopy. You don’t really see solar canopies outside of an urban environment. So, I think those are the biggest drivers for geographical inconsistencies.
In what ways can EPCs predict which markets are likely to develop favorable incentives?
FF: It seems like they’re really “willy-nilly.” But there is some rationale as to where the incentives take place, and I think the key is really to understand the perspective of the utilities. If we change our mindset about how we can work in conjunction with the utilities, it really helps us get into their minds and think about where do carports help them? And carports help them in places where there’s, like Danny said, a shortage of land, and also where the grid isn’t particularly strong. So if you look at places like that, the utility can really use some help with distributed generation.
What can EPCs do if they are in a less-than-ideal market?
DK: Whether you’re in a less-than-ideal or ideal market, where we see EPCs and developers strike success is when they have customer-focused approach. They’re working very closely with their customer who has renewable energy targets to begin with. Sometimes it could be a third-generation business owner who wants to take their company into the future with renewables through canopies, roof-mounted solar, lighting, etc.