Boat and RV owners often find there are limited places in which to store their prized possessions. Many cities and homeowners’ associations have banned the storage of larger vehicles in driveways and on curbsides, forcing boat and RV owners to seek alternative storage. In addition, a key requirement of storage for most boat and RV owners is their vehicles’ protection from the elements including rain, wind, snow, water and sun.
In fact, the sun is the single greatest factor in the deterioration of boats and RVs. Solar radiation destroys the finish on these vehicles and weakens materials. Heat from the sun causes materials to expand and then shrink when the temperature cools. This constant cycle can cause irreparable damage.
To keep boats and RVs out of the harmful rays of the sun—and other inclement weather—many owners are turning to self-storage to safely and securely store their vehicles. Smart self-storage operators are exploring the use of solar carports as an eco-friendly and lucrative alternative to uncovered vehicle storage.
Criteria for Solar Carports
RV- and boat-storage facilities not only provide a valuable service to customers, this niche product can also have an excellent return on investment for the self-storage operator. Now, this investment can be enhanced even more with photovoltaic (PV) systems, which allow a storage facility to harness the sun’s energy to generate power while providing protection for RV, boat and vehicle storage.
As with any self-storage construction project, certain criteria must be met to achieve the best results. Sites suitable for PV systems must have an adequate source of sunlight, up to five hours daily; the building orientation should have a southern-exposed roof; and the carport should also have acceptable shading conditions. Other key components include:
- Solar panels, which convert sunlight to electricity.
- The solar support system. This has a dual purpose: supporting the panels that generate electricity and providing covered parking.
- Inverters, which convert DC power to utility-grade AC power.
- Monitoring equipment, which ensures all components of a PV system operate at expected efficiency levels.
Solar shading structures are an ideal way to generate revenue for shaded parking while offsetting rising utility costs. Electricity rates have spiked dramatically in the last five years, leaving many operators scrambling to finds ways to cover the extra expense.
PV-solar carport systems can also be a revenue generator for some operators. There are several areas of the country where businesses that produce more energy than they use can sell the power back to the electric company so it can be used as energy for other businesses.
In states where solar is a much sought-after source of energy, such as Florida, the government offers hefty tax incentives to businesses investing in solar equipment. Grants, cash rebates and other enticements are also available from a variety of sources, including utility companies, to help offset the costs of PV systems.
Currently, the federal solar tax credit for commercial buildings is 30 percent for an eligible property. Net metering is also available in some states. Operators can use surplus energy from the spring to pay for extra power needed in the summer, for example.
Do Your Homework
If you’re considering adding a solar carport to your self-storage facility, you should first study what you’ll need to make a solar project work, structurally and financially. You should also understand the effect of site location and panel configuration, and how energy costs relate to a facility’s success.
Contact a qualified company that can coordinate the solar panel and canopy installation. A solar and construction professional will perform a site evaluation that allows the design and engineer team to determine the best placement and slope for the panels, which will ensure your facility achieves the greatest success.
To learn more about specific state and federal incentives, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy at www.dsireusa.org.
Robin Heuer is chief operating officer, chief learning officer and a board member of iParkSolar, a developer of solar-integrated carports, RV/boat storage and integrated electrical-vehicle charging stations. For more information, e-mail [email protected].