In addition to large solar farms in rural areas, distributed rooftop solar power is incredibly important for the most populated areas to move to clean energy. In cities, the larger rooftops are easily outfitted with solar power systems, but smaller residential buildings are a bit trickier.
Urban rooftops aren't just flat, open spaces. They often are covered in vent pipes, hatches, skylights and more, and in New York City, fire codes require a six-feet-wide and nine-feet-high open path on every roof. That means that solar panels have to fit in what little space is left.
The engineers at Brooklyn SolarWorks have found a way around that by raising the solar panels above the rooftops with a solar canopy. The canopies were designed by Brooklyn-based Situ Studio."If you want to lay solar panels flat on the roof, you really don't have a whole lot of usable space," says T.R. Ludwig, co-founder of Brooklyn SolarWorks to FastCoExist. "You wind up with these really small solar systems, maybe 10 panels or something like that. When you use a canopy, you raise above basically all of these requirements, and you can fit a much larger system."
The canopies also fix another problem. Outside of cities, homes have sloped roofs causing the solar panels to sit at an angle, which maximizes the amount of sunlight they can capture. The canopies angle the panels over flat city roofs so that they also get the most sunlight.
The company takes measurements of each roof and plugs them into design software that generates a custom design for each building. The canopies rise above the height needed to meet the fire codes and leaves the roof space open, so the company says that the system makes it easier to get the solar power systems approved by the city, a process that is often complicated and lengthy.
The only obstacle that remains for the solar canopies is a little bit of NIMBYism. Brooklyn SolarWorks says that most neighbors think that the designs are cool and futuristic looking, but some people don't think they fit with historic buildings like brownstones.
With that in mind, they are looking to come up with a separate design that would blend in better with older buildings, but they also hope that more people will change their minds and realize that buildings and design can evolve, especially in order to replace fossil fuels with solar power.
The company hopes to start installing solar canopies in other cities soon. You can watch a short video about the solar canopies below.