Solar Canopies Protect Your Car and Charge It Too

Timber frame shelters are topped in bifacial solar panels and work even in the winter.

Suncommons solar canopy shelter


After showing the K:Port Charging Hub from Hewitt Studios recently, timber framer and designer Mike Beganyi of MBDC, LLC told Treehugger he has been there and done that, designing solar canopies for SunCommon, a renewable energy company serving Vermont and New York state.

Beganyi says they are a simple structure, designed for mass fabrication by timber frame company New Energy Works in Rochester, New York, a company Beganyi worked with at the time. He tells Treehugger:

"I was doing design / business development for New Energy Works and an engineer friend connected me and SunCommon. I think the first one was a commercial installation at a food coop to act as a ‘kick off’ - Jan 2017. Was in development for about 4 months prior. We had a small truck full of them ready to go, and it grew (and changed) from there."

We are fans of wood construction because it stores carbon for the life of the project and fans of timber frame because it is beautiful, it keeps local craftspeople working, and the wood can be reused forever. They also mount the whole thing on our favorite foundations, helical piles, So even when we are getting our energy from a portable Mr. Fusion instead of the one in the sky, the components can be unscrewed and reused.

Solar canopy is storage


"They were designed for typical Northeast US wind and snow loading. Traditional mortise and tenon joinery (CNC cut) for all the main components, steel post bases to connect to a foundation or slab or get welded into helical piers for installations where clients didn’t want concrete."

This is very different from the K:Port, where the solar power generated was not going to be enough to actually charge a car that was only there for a short time. These canopies are designed to cover parking spaces, so the car can charge all day. They come in varying sizes: 18 solar panels will cover one car, 24 panels for two cars, and 42 panels for four cars. Being an independent structure, they can be set at the proper orientation and angle to maximize solar gain.

Bifacial solar panels


The solar panels used are bifacial, recently described on Treehugger as panels that "generate solar power from both direct sunlight and reflected light (albedo), which means they are essentially double-sided panels." New Energy Works explains:

"According to SunCommon’s calculations, a two-car bi-facial panel canopy generates enough solar power for the average Vermont home. Designed to take advantage of snow, they use glass solar panels on the Canopies that absorb light from both the front and the back thanks to Sunpreme bi-facial solar panels. If the Canopy is covered with snow on top, the underside of the panels will still produce power from the sunlight reflected off the snow-covered ground. Providing shelter, making the most of inclement weather, and offsetting energy demands–yes, please!"

As David Kuchta noted in Treehugger, this makes a big difference in the amount of power generated.

"Solar panels typically produce about 40-60% less electricity during the winter, yet solar panels are more efficient in the cooler temperatures and decreased atmospheric interference of higher latitudes. In wintry climates, capturing reflected sunlight from snow improves that efficiency during a season in which they are best able to convert light to electricity."
big solar canopy


So if you have the space, these solar canopies provide protected parking, shelter, or can act as a pergola. Being made out of timber frame, they don't look industrial but are in fact, quite beautiful. Being open on all sides and topped with two-faced solar panels, they work even when covered in snow. What a clever solution to a number of problems. There are lots of them out there now, but Mike Beganyi still remembers the first: "It was really cool to see it go from ‘do you think we can…’ to being there for the very first install."