addition to healing veterans, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in
Phoenix, Arizona, is also helping to heal the environment, with the
recent installation of a 4.4 MW solar carport project that will
displace millions of pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.
producing 4.4 megawatts of renewable power, the installation at the
Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix is said to be the largest
solar carport installation in the U.S. The carport covers roughly seven
acres, or the equivalent of just over five football fields, and it
provides shade for all parking stalls—a total of 1625
vehicles—in an area of the U.S. where temperatures can easily
exceed 100 degrees F.
The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Phoenix,
Arizona, helps to heal ailing military veterans, serving about 80,000
patients per year. Now the center is also helping to heal the
environment, with the installation of 18,000 solar panels to supply 28
percent of its power needs, displacing greenhouse gases.
Capable of producing 4.4 megawatts of renewable power, this
installation is said to be the largest solar carport installation in
the United States. The renewable energy it produces will displace about
9.3 million pounds of greenhouse gases per year that would otherwise
have been created from conventional energy sources to meet the VA
hospital's needs, equal to the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from
powering 850 homes for one year.
The carport covers roughly seven acres, or the equivalent of just over
five football fields, and it provides shade for all parking
stalls—a total of 1625 vehicles in an area of the U.S. where
temperatures can reach over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, there is
so much demand for shade in Phoenix that some companies charge vehicle
owners to park their vehicles in the shade.
The project also added 135 parking stalls.
Costing approximately $20 million, the two-phase project was
constructed by SunWize Sustainable Energy Group, which has been awarded
several VA contracts to construct solar projects at government medical
In addition to medical and environmental benefits, this and other solar
projects installed by SunWizefor the Department of Veterans Affairs
also provide economic benefits. That's because SunWize has made an
effort to work with Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
(SDVOSB) to construct these projects. The company's main contractor on
the massive Phoenix project was local, veteran-owned contractor, Sand
"SunWize recognizes the importance of supplier and subcontractor
diversity as a critical business issue for our company," says David
Eveland, vice-president of sales and marketing for the Sustainable
Energy Group at SunWize. "We are committed to ensuring that it is an
integral part of the strategic sourcing and procurement process in our
Sustainable Energy Group. SunWize proactively identifies, builds
relationships, and purchases products and services from small
businesses, providing them with opportunities to participate in
The Phoenix project has opened doors for SDVOSB contractors to bid on
additional solar projects being done by SunWize.
"Currently SunWize is subcontracting several Small Disadvantaged and
Veteran Owned Business Enterprises for other VA projects throughout the
U.S.," says Eveland. "We are subcontracting the same veteran-owned
contractor we used for our Phoenix project—Sand Dollar
Construction—in our Loma Linda, California, project.
"SunWize understands the importance that the VA contracts SDVOSB in
their projects, and we work to achieve the highest level of
participation possible," added Eveland.
The Phoenix VA hospital solar carport project is part of a federal
program launched by then-President George W. Bush, in 2007. Bush
mandated the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve energy
efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions via renewable
technologies by either three percent per year or 30 percent by the end
of 2015. The VA is using a variety of renewable energy sources to reach
these objectives, and solar is one of them.
SunWize built one of the first installations for the VA under this
program at the Dallas, Texas, VA medical facility in 2009. Eveland says
the company has been involved in numerous solar carport, roof mounted,
and ground mounted installations for the VA over the past four years,
with other significant projects including medical facilities in
Amarillo, Texas; Loma Linda, California; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and
an upcoming project in San Antonio, Texas.
Power generated by the solar carport installation at the Carl T. Hayden
Medical Center in Phoenix is fed directly into the hospital medium
voltage system. As the solar power is absorbed at the facility, the
facility demands less power from the grid. The percentage of demand
reduction from the utility depends on the weather, which of course
dictates the amount of solar power generated.
In addition to shading patients' cars, which keeps them cooler,
providing shade for patients to walk under, and using the large expanse
of parking areas to produce power, the carport configuration is ideal
for solar arrays in hot climates like Phoenix. The arrays are well
exposed to airflow, so they operate at the lowest possible
temperatures; therefore, they produce more power.
SunWize selected monocrystalline Sanyo modules for phase one and
Samsung modules for phase two of the project; monocrystalline modules
operate more efficiently at high temperatures than competitive
multicrystalline modules and turned out to be the best value at the
time of this installation.
"Sanyo was selected for phase one because its solar panels have a
higher efficiency, which allowed us to squeeze more output from the
provided parking area. The technology in the Sanyo product also lends
itself to better performance in high ambient temperature conditions,"
Sanyo has since been bought by Panasonic, as part of Panasonic's desire
to have an increased focus on solar panels. By its 100th anniversary in
2018, Panasonic has said it aims to be the number one green innovation
company in the electronics industry.
Satcon provided the inverters for phase one.
Eveland says Samsung was selected as the solar panel provider for phase
two because it also provides a product that works well in high heat
conditions, and the pricing provided the best value. The recently
completed phase two component contributes 3.8 megawatts to the total
4.4 megawatt installation.
Both phases are 10 degree, fixed mount systems. Eveland says an
investigation into using tracking systems showed that it was cost
prohibitive for this carport application—despite the output
benefits of trackers.
Energy Group works with Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
(SDVOSB) to construct solar projects. The company's main contractor on
the Phoenix project was local veteran-owned contractor, Sand Dollar
The phase two racking was supplied by Professional Solar Products and
the inverters were provided by Advanced Energy.
"In addition to the inverters, Advanced Energy supplied prewired
enclosures that house electrical switchgear and transformers; these
install quickly as a single assembly," explained Eveland. "These
assemblies are factory-tested and reduced field construction time and
disruption to the facility. Further, this compact design was necessary
to achieve the VA's goal of not eliminating parking spaces, and to not
disrupt patient services during construction, with components required
for this installation or during construction.
"We did our work at night," says Eveland, "and no parking spaces were
used, lost, or eliminated. Wherever possible, we used underground
boring technology as opposed to trenching to minimize patchwork in the
parking lot. Mostly, we only introduced small holes every so often as
entry and exit points of the electrical infrastructure installed via
Eveland adds that working around the medical facility's busy
environment was one of the major lessons that SunWize learned on this
"Every day, the parking lot was full by 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., so we
learned how to install roughly 400,000 square feet of structure in
these busy parking lots without interrupting the hospital operations,"
"We did that very successfully but it required a tightly coordinated
effort with the VA operations team and our subcontractors. It also
required us to take on a broad scope of work including demolition of
decommissioned facilities and construction of new parking lots. For
example, temporary housing had to be found for staff when these
buildings were decommissioned to make way for additional parking and
solar carports. Also, existing electrical infrastructure had to be
Given the variety of activities that take place at the busy facility,
SunWize also provided the VA with about 10 different design options to
take everyone's needs into consideration. It took careful coordination
with facilities and energy managers at the VA medical facility to
implement the project to complement other construction projects that
were underway and anticipate construction plans down the road.
SunWize was able to repurpose some of the existing infrastructure in
the new solar carport installation and improve upon it. For example,
the site had existing canvas carports to provide shade at the facility;
these needed periodic replacement, at a considerable expense to the VA.
SunWize was able to repurpose the existing concrete bases to support
its solar installation and provide energy generating shade for vehicles.
Eveland says the VA's hospital solar carport projects are just one
example of a rapidly growing market for solar powered installations on
carports. He says that many companies have come to realize that parking
lots and standard carport rooftops are essentially unproductive and
underutilized space that can instead be used to power their facilities
with solar energy and reap economic and environmental benefits.
"It's becoming extremely popular because it uses under-utilized real
estate assets, can use existing carport structures, results in easy to
maintain solar, and results in cooler, more efficient solar array
operation," says Eveland. "Solar arrays on rooftops are mounted close
to the roof surface, so heat is trapped and the solar arrays run
hotter; this is not as ideal as a carport installation with freely
flowing air cooling the solar modules."
He adds that there are more requests to include electric car charging
stations with these installations, given the growing number of
electric-powered cars on the road and the number of electric power
support vehicles used in a facility like a VA hospital.