July 10, 2023

Why you should consider solar carport EV charging stations

BEAM solar EV charging car port

Whether you’ve already installed electric vehicle (EV) chargers or are still contemplating it, one of the biggest considerations is the impact it'll have on your electric bill. Depending on your electricity rate, EVs can cost anywhere from $30 to $60 per month to charge at home, and from $35.56 to $117.22 per hour of charging if you’re operating the highest-level DC Fast chargers. 


To be sure, gas-powered cars are still far more expensive to fuel than EVs: 130% more according to a 2021 AAA study. That’s not likely to change, even if gas prices dropped to $2 a gallon and the cost of electricity tripled.


Organizations offering public EV charging presumably make back more than they spend on electricity, either through payment to charge or increased dwell time at their locations. For organizations using EV chargers exclusively for their fleet vehicles, and for home EV supply equipment (EVSE) owners, it’s worth investigating how to keep those costs down. 


How to lower the cost of EV charging

You’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of Americans who are producing their own gasoline. All across the country though, you’ll find someone producing their own electricity with solar panels and using it to charge their EV.


If you can generate your own electricity in quantities large enough to charge your EVs, your only cost is the amortized price you paid for the equipment to generate that power, and maintenance. What’s more, if you’re generating power in excess of what you need for your EVs, you can use that to help power the rest of your building, or sell it back to the grid, improving your EVSE return on investment. 


The easiest way to accomplish this is through a solar carport, ideally with battery storage included. As long as you have a sunny location to park your EVs, solar carports provide a slew of benefits aside from the obvious EV power supply. Plus they often cost less than installing solar panels on your building.


How solar carports work

Solar carports can be linked to or independent of EV chargers. At their simplest, they’re car shelters with solar panels on top, which generate power that can be used by the building. Most include at least one of the following for improved functionality:


  • EV charger, whether it’s attached to the panels directly or located somewhere else on your electrical system, which allows the owner to offset the cost of EV charging from the grid with the power being produced

  • Battery storage system that stores excess power on-site for when it’s needed (e.g. to charge an EV at night)

  • Two-way grid connection that sends power in excess of what the batteries can store back to the grid in exchange for payment


Solar carports have a slightly larger footprint than rooftop solar, but they can often offer efficiencies rooftop mounts can’t. Where roof angles may be suboptimal for light, and roof sizes may be too small or not ideally angled to collect the most sun for the number of panels needed, solar carports are designed to fit the panels a customer needs. 


Plus solar carports protect the cars they shelter rather than altering the roof they’re attached to. Solar panels can increase risk of damage to roof shingles, and are costly to take on and off when roofs need repair or replacement. 


Compared to ground-mounted solar systems, solar carports have a much smaller footprint. This can be an especially meaningful consideration for organizations contemplating larger ground-mount systems: part or all of a parking lot or parking garage roof can be turned into a solar carport that provides as much power as a ground-mount system without requiring an additional square foot of space. 


Where solar carports make sense

With eight parking spaces for every car in the US, there’s a tremendous amount of space for solar carports. Solar can work in far more locations than you might think; Google’s Project Sunroof offers a quick way to assess whether your building gets enough annual sunlight to power it with solar panels. 


Aside from working well for single- and multifamily homes with driveways, solar carports are perfect for any organization that has a large parking lot or garage for its staff or clientele. That includes hotels, schools and universities, medical facilities, venues, shopping centers, convenience stores and restaurants


Solar carports are excellent investments

The sticker price can put off prospective buyers when the payback period really isn’t as long as it seems. After the investment is paid back, you begin making money on the EV carport, something you can’t accomplish with an EV alone. Let’s look at simplified residential and commercial examples from a state with fairly average electricity costs. In both examples, the cost of EV chargers is excluded, since those chargers will presumably need to be purchased whether or not you’re installing a solar carport:

Payback period for a 100 kW commercial solar carport in Nevada (supporting 20 EVs)

Solar carport incl. installation

(based on average price per kW of three1 publicly available case studies, cost varies widely) 

Estimated annual maintenance costs
-$86,625 over 5 years
Annual cost to charge 20 EVs daily at commercial location
Total 6 year cost 
$43,200 to $86,400
Total 10 year cost 
$72,000 to $144,000

Payback period for a 5 kW residential solar carport in Nevada

$18,000 to $25,000
-$5,400 to -$7,500
Cost after incentives
$12,600 to $17,500
$360 to $720
Annual cost to charge one EV at home
Total 6 year cost 
$1,728 to $6,628
$2,160 to $4,320
Total 10 year cost 
-$5,520 to -$620
$3,600 to $7,200

Solar carports don’t have to be construction projects

If permitting and construction are your biggest impediments to adding EVSE, solar, or both, there are excellent options that require no construction or electrical work. Enel X Way’s partner BEAM provides customers with a combined solar array and EV charger called the EV ARC 2020 that can be dropped into any standard parking space in a matter of minutes. The system comes with a 5 kW panel array and Enel X Way JuiceBox chargers, and includes a floor plate that fits a standard parking space. The EV ARC 2020 is capable of recharging 245 miles of range per day, far more than most commuters drive. 


With so many ways of configuring a solar carport, and so much to gain from having one, they’re worth investigating further whether you have EVs or are still contemplating when to buy. 

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