1. Aside from California, what regions in North America are leading the way for solar energy production?
According to a report by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, the top 5 states ranked by grid-connected installed PV capacity at the end of 2009 were California, New Jersey, Florida, Colorado and Arizona. When looking at cumulative capacity as of year-end 2009, California is far ahead of the rest of the U.S. with 768MW installed. New Jersey is a distant 2nd with 128MW cumulative capacity. In Canada, Ontario is leading the way in solar energy installations. At the end of 2009, the Ontario Power Authority had 486MW under contract.
2. What changes have you seen or do you expect to see in the corporate world in terms of attitudes toward clean energy?
As the general public becomes more energy conscious and aware of the importance of moving toward clean energy solutions, consumers and environmental groups are placing pressure on corporations to put a higher value on renewable energy. We see this push across all industry sectors. The top 20 companies on Newsweek’s 2009 Green Rankings include companies from many industries including technology, pharmaceuticals, consumer products, retail and financial services.
Corporations are not only taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment, by reducing waste and eliminating toxic substances in products, but they are also making huge gains in the area of clean energy, by installing solar and wind energy systems and by incorporating hybrid vehicles into their fleets. We are also seeing companies spending more time educating employees on environmental issues.
Going forward, I think we will see more companies making a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint with some pledging a goal of carbon neutrality. I also expect that companies will be looking to “green” their buildings either by retrofitting or through new construction.
3. What are some common misconceptions about solar energy?
One of the biggest misconceptions about photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is that solar structures need to be in a warm climate to be efficient. PV solar panels derive electrical energy from light energy (photons) not heat energy, so cooler climates don’t prevent electric power generation. However, with shorter daylight hours in winter, solar panels produce proportionately less power. If the modules become covered with enough snow to prevent light penetration, they stop producing power. Fortunately, snow generally melts quickly when the sun warms the modules; and if you brush the snow off, they resume operation immediately. By way of example, Germany is a world leader in solar energy production, despite its cloudy, northern climate and a higher geographic latitude than Buffalo, NY.
4. How are companies capitalizing on solar power?
In the U.S., many solar PV projects qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit. This credit has given many companies the incentive to start thinking about making investments in solar energy. Several states also offer local incentives for renewable energy projects and, in many cases system owners are able to amortize the PV equipment as a capital expenditure. Solar energy generated by these systems is used to offset a site owner’s utility costs. Under certain financing structures, such as PPA’s [power purchase agreements] the electricity generated can be sold to a buyer who may be able to lock in their energy costs for periods as long as 20-25 years.
5. How did you get interested in solar energy and how did you come up with the idea for a solar parking canopy?
I have always been interested in green design and energy. Prior to starting Solaire Generation, I ran an architectural practice that put a premium on “beauty” – we defined beauty not only in form but in function. All our structures were designed for energy efficiency and a quality user experience.
I always thought parking lots were generic with little positive impact on the environment. Understanding the profound need for renewable energy production and water conservation, I saw the market opportunity for a product that offers both. The patented design came from the understanding of how PV panels perform and the creative integration of aesthetics and functionality.
6. What are the advantages to putting a solar structure in a parking lot?
By placing solar structures in a parking lot, clients are making use of existing real estate and basically having the parking lot do double duty. Canopies, depending on the design, can also provide some level of protection from sun, rain and snow for pedestrians and cars. Parking canopies also make a strong environmental statement, showing a client’s commitment to producing green energy.
7. Are there subsidies or other financial assistance programs available for solar structures?
As mentioned above, in the U.S., there is a 30 percent federal tax credit that companies can apply against the total out-of-pocket installed cost of a solar energy system. Individual states offer various incentives for renewable energy system including performance or capacity based rebate programs, grants and state tax credits. Under PPA’s, a form of third party financing an end-user can lock in utility costs over a period of 20-25 years.
8. How much power does a system generate (power per avg. canopy)?
The amount of power generated is partially dependent on geographic location and parking lot orientation and size of the canopy however, the biggest factor determining amount of power generated is the panel efficiency. Solaire recently completed a 1.1MW project on a corporate campus in New Jersey. The entire project consists of six rows of Solaire Parking Canopies™ supporting more than 3400 high efficiency solar panels. The canopies cover 60,000 square feet of asphalt, more than 400 parking spaces.
9. What are the various types of solar structures offered?
In terms of parking canopies, the leading designs currently available are typically single-incline or dual incline, as in the Solaire Parking Canopy ™. In general, most canopies do not offer integrated decking and fascia which adds the functionality of concealing and housing wire ways and guiding water from rain and snow to the gutter.
10. Could you easily add electric vehicle charging stations to the structures that would use the power directly from the panels?
Yes, this is one of the concepts that we considered when designing the Solaire Premium Canopy. The design of our foundation, columns and beam structure allows charging stations infrastructure to be easily integrated in the Solaire Parking system.
11. How much value is placed on the shading and weather protection factor as a fringe benefit of solar structures?
Certainly, a primary reason for investing in a solar parking canopy is to generate solar energy and offset utility costs, but we do see shading and weather protection as an important added benefit. In Southern states, parking canopies have proven their value as sun protection for years. Many solar parking structures do not feature integrated decking so sun, rain and snow will pass through the spaces between the solar panels. On solar parking structure with integrated decking, the canopy will provide continuous shade and protection from rain and snow. The weather protection is of particular value in northern and wet climates. The patented dual incline design of the Solaire Parking Canopy™ allows snow to collect in the middle preventing large pieces of snow and ice from falling on cars and people.
12. How long does it take to complete a project? Can the parking lot still be used during construction? Is the canopy assembled onsite?
Each project is unique and therefore the timeline for completion will vary. Solaire’s recent 1.1 MW project consisting of six canopies on a corporate campus took approximately 3 months from groundbreaking to completion.
Solaire works with clients to plan project implementation to cause minimal disruption to parking and, when possible, we try to complete the project in sections leaving some, onsite active parking always available.
We are highly efficient with the onsite construction. The steel is transported to the site via flatbed truck and arrives basically as a kit of parts for assembly. There is no onsite welding and all finishes are factory applied. Standard cranes, tools and equipment are used to erect our canopies.
13. What prompted the design of the Solaire premium canopy? What makes it different from other products currently on the market?
As mentioned above, the design of the Solaire premium canopy evolved from my long-time interest in green design and renewable energy. I saw the opportunity to enhance underutilized parking lots for the production of clean energy. The Solaire Parking Canopy™ offers a patented dual incline design which optimizes energy yield for any geographic location or parking lot orientation. The Solaire Parking Canopy™ also offers a unique integrated decking and gutter design which provides continuous shelter from sun, rain and snow for vehicles and pedestrians. The gutter system can capture rainwater and snow melt which can be reclaimed for irrigation and other gray water uses. The wide fascia on the sides of the canopy as well as the underside of the decking can be used for advertising or corporate branding. With covered electrical conduits and wire ways, the Solaire Parking Canopy™ provides enhanced safety and protects the PV system from unauthorized access while maintaining the clean look of the structure.
Laurence Mackler, founder and CEO of Solaire Generation, Inc. trained as an architect with an expertise in high-end architectural structures and a dedication to sustainable energy. Prior to launching Solaire Generation in 2008, Mr. Mackler founded Mackler Design Studio, an acclaimed architectural firm in New York City that has designed and developed sustainable upscale residential and commercial projects throughout the United States. He holds a BA from Dartmouth College and Masters of Architecture degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Mr. Mackler is a member of the United States Green Building Council and the Solar Energy Industries Institute.