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Solar power delivers for dealership

A Texas car dealership is enhancing its curb appeal, providing benefits to the environment-and protecting its inventory?"with a new solar carport.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Today's car dealerships are looking for ways to improve their competitiveness. The cost of power, competition from online car buying, and escalating insurance premiums due to vehicle damage and deductibles are among their biggest challenges.

One Texas car dealership has discovered that carports equipped with rooftop solar power address all three of these challenges while also benefiting the environment—and providing them with predictable and stable future power costs.

It helps that Texas has an above-average solar resource to tap into, but it is also susceptible to damaging weather. The main motivation for this solar power carport installation in McKinney, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, was to protect the dealership's high-end car inventory from hail. It was completed last April after three months of construction.

"A large market driver in the McKinney area is hail damage, so the dealership was already considering conventional coverage for their auto inventory," says Trey Jarrard, co-founder and CEO of Renewvia Energy Corp. They are the Georgia-based engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) company hired by the dealership to design and construct this project.

"We were already in discussions with them about rooftop solar and that lead to a discussion about solar carports, which was an added benefit to them," he says.

In terms of protection from hail damage, all Tier One solar panel manufacturers must pass a minimum impact test of 23 meters per second with a 0.5" diameter ice ball to achieve a UL and/or IEC certification. Most companies design their solar panels for even higher standards. Using a solar carport structure to protect their inventory gives car dealerships, like this one in Texas, the ammunition to potentially negotiate better rates and deductibles with their insurers.

In addition to providing a protective cover for vehicles, the solar carport at this Texas dealership produces 1.089 megawatt (MW) hours of solar power annually and offsets 1213 metric tons of greenhouse gas. This is the equivalent of over 136,000 gallons of consumed gasoline or the annual power consumption of 190 homes. They are offsetting 78 percent of their power consumption with this solar installation.

Their power costs are nearly eliminated, with a potential payback on the solar installation in five years or less. This carport covers a total area of 52,036 square feet, with 321 solar-covered vehicle spaces. Each space measures approximately 9' X 18', protected by about nine solar panels.


"With this solar carport, every vehicle space generates anywhere from $300 to $500 annually in power savings," says Jarrard.

Renewvia Energy is developing four solar carport projects for this car company at several locations throughout the U.S. These are the car company's first experiences with solar carport installations.

In terms of curb appeal, the unique and attractive curved design of this carport, which encompasses the dealership's showroom and service building, complements their inventory and provides a shaded and comfortable environment for customers. It acts as an extension of their showroom floor where customers can walk around out of the sun and make their way into the dealership's VIP lounge. The carport is also equipped with solar-powered canopy lighting to illuminate the inventory late into the evening.

As the EPC on this project, Renew-via Energy reached out to a number of industry suppliers, including California-based Baja Carports, for structural design, components, and installation; Canadian Solar for the 2,235 bifacial solar panels; and Chint Power Systems for the inverters.

Renewvia Energy has been building solar power installations throughout the United States for more than a decade and has grown considerably over that time, having installed multiple projects for their established client list. In 2016, they began working in other parts of the world where solar power installations are not necessarily incentivized, in several countries in Africa where they own and operate a number of remote microgrids.

"There are about 650 million people in Africa alone who are living without power right now, and that's a market that is really burgeoning for us," says Jarrard.

In the case of the McKinney installation, the car dealership owns the solar power installation, which is directly tied into their behind-the-meter power distribution system. So they are deriving all of the financial benefit from the system.

 As the EPC on the Texas car dealership project, Renewvia Energy reached out to a number of industry suppliers, including California-based Baja Carports, for structural design, components, and installation; Canadian Solar for the 2,235 bifacial solar panels; and Chint Power Systems for the inverters.

Jarrard and his engineering team worked closely with Paul Cerejo, Baja's director of construction and his team of in-house engineers to design the carport configuration. It features Baja's TS radius beam solar support system manufactured from pre-fabricated steel.

"The radius design provided what we and the end user felt was a more aesthetically pleasing design because it is a high-end dealership," says Jarrard. "It was significantly more expensive. We had to send the beams to a separate facility to have them bent."

The carport's structural height is 8' 11", with a minimum clearance of 8' 2". There is only a five-degree tilt on the solar panels. This was an important specification required by the customer because, according to Jarrard, "they prioritized protection over production."

The solar panels are attached directly to the structure's framing system or its rooftop decking, which was a design challenge since solar panels do not bend nor are their frames curved. According to Baja Carports, the structure's curvature made for a challenging solar panel installation.

Each column, each beam's placement, and the purlins connected to them had to be precise from the start. If one connection was slightly off, the solar panels would not fit properly. The entire structure could have been out of alignment, jeopardizing its appearance and most importantly, its structural integrity if the solar panels were not installed on the structure at a particular starting point and connected in a certain order.

"The current design was born out of necessity to not design too tight of a radius so that solar modules could be installed. The outcome was a slight curvature, which works for solar modules and provides a unique look," says Baja Carport's Paul Cerejo.

What was ultimately delivered was a structure with significant curb appeal, where customers immediately see the carport's clean lines, with its unique curvature design, from the street.

Baja Carports was able to deliver and install the solar carport structure using a designated staging area, and installed the carport structure in three phases with eight crew members in just 28 days. 

Renewvia Energy was comfortable working with Baja Carports on the project for several reasons.

"They provide a structural turnkey offering, and they have been in business for over 40 years," says Jarrard. "They have also worked in all different types of operating businesses. That was one of the extreme sensitivities with this particular retrofitting of an existing business. We had to take over large portions of their car lot and the lot is the lifeblood of an auto dealership."

It was a challenge to balance the interruption of their business and to keep them operating, which meant starting and finishing the project as quickly as possible.

For its part, Baja Carports was able to deliver and install the solar carport structure using a designated staging area and installing the carport structure in three phases with eight crew members in just 28 days. There was very close coordination with dealership management and a dynamic situation where the staging area was diminishing in size on a daily basis.

"Working at a high-end dealership, which cannot shut down for installation, while keeping their facility in operating condition is always a complex task," says Cerejo. "Coordination between our installation crew and the dealership's sales department was vital."

Jarrard says that Baja has the experience to provide anything from very conventional solar carport designs to highly customized designs at an economical price.

"We very much like dealing with an entity where we provide a layout and design, and then they can take it from there in terms of engineering, materials delivery, and then structural installation for us," he says.

Renewvia Energy conducted all of the electrical engineering on the project and handled all the procurement and installation of the electrical components.

The dealership specifically asked for bifacial solar panels based on their potential to generate more power and also because they are more aesthetically appealing on the underside of the canopy. Jarrard believes that given the environment in which these bifacial solar panels are installed, with a new cement pad and reflection from the vehicles, there is the potential to generate additional power from the panel underside.

Outdoor lots at car dealerships are common for storing and displaying their inventory. Therefore, there is a constant need to protect that inventory from destructive weather like hail, as well as direct sun, rain, and snow.

Jarrard believes that solar carports are a growth opportunity for the company.

"We have been in discussions with a number of automotive companies over the past year, with the driving market force being inventory protection particularly from hail," he says.

Where snow is an issue, a dealership can also save on labor costs by not having to clear snow away from vehicles when they are protected with a solar carport.