Solar canopies offer solutions that soar above rooftop constraints

Day and Night solar canopies

Rooftops are “too full of stuff,” says Bob Eaton, managing partner at Day & Night Solar, a turnkey solar solutions provider located in Collinsville, Illinois. That’s why the company has sought solar installation solutions that rise above the crowded rooftops that populate the United States.

Back in February, Day & Night Solar (DNS) worked closely with Young Electric & Communications and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 6 to provide a creative solution to install rooftop solar in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District – a fully elevated solar canopy structure for the Young Electric’s headquarters. 

Young Electric is a long-standing electrical contractor serving the greater San Francisco Bay Area. The rooftop solar array was the first of its kind in the city and met 100% of the company’s electric needs. No one had ever been able to add enough modules to the roof of an industrial building in San Francisco due to the following issues: rooftop equipment, lack of space, and maintaining code compliant pathways for first responders.

The unique solution was to go up.

“With real estate, it’s cheaper to go up than out,” Eaton says. “We’ve learned how to transfer loads without crashing through floors.”

Eaton describes San Francisco as one of the worst markets to install rooftop solar, as the space is too constrictive. Canopies offer a solution for working around — or rather above — such equipment as electrical boxes, HVAC and other infrastructure.

The canopy provides a high clearance at 8 ft to allow access to the rooftop and supports a solar array with 270 panels, generating 145.6 kW of power. All work meets fire codes and the free-flowing open plan will allow first responders space to safely maneuver on the roof.

“We’ve been wanting to add solar for years, but space limitations made it not worthwhile for our business. Day & Night Solar worked closely with us to overcome this challenge and design the system to meet both our performance needs and the city’s permitting requirements,” said Wayne Huie, president and CEO of Young Electric. “We’re proud of this project and are excited to help others add systems like this to their facilities.” 

Fire approval via virtual reality

Day & Night Solar works around the nation and brings a broad range of expertise and technical know-how to design, engineer and project approval.

“One of the most unique items for DNS was the need to get a very clear message to the local fire and city officials that in no way would or could this interfere or hinder a first responder,” Eaton said. “DNS took that to heart and developed a virtual reality program to demonstrate in 3-D what the first responder would expect to encounter and how the canopy would cause no safety issues.”

Young Electric’s rooftop solar canopy in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District.

This virtual demonstration is what provided peace of mind to the San Francisco Fire Department and allowed the project to move forward. At the end of the day, “we must protect those who protect us,” Eaton said.

The 3-D software also allows the company to virtually walk clients through the parameters of a project.

Day & Night Solar offers all services needed to design, install, finance, and maintain renewable solar energy systems. Since opening its doors in early 2009, the company has responded to the rapid demand in the growing solar industry by expanding from its roots in Southern Illinois to working with clients across the entire United States.

Solar canopies proven in hurricane winds

Day & Night Solar developed its own solar canopy racking system through its 14 years of experience in the industry, pulling together different parts and pieces to provide a solution that best suits its customers. The company has worked closely with the IBEW across the United States to perfect its canopies.

One of the challenges with solar canopies is wind uplift. Eaton says Day & Night Solar solved that issue about nine years ago, when installing solar canopies on five- to six-story parking garages in Florida.

“Lift is a big issue. You have to be able to keep the panels from flying off,” Eaton says. “You have to look at the angles and look at the amount of space between the panels.”

The company’s canopies have been able to withstand hurricane winds in Florida, and that accumulation of past experience has aided future projects.

“We’re smart enough to be able to put all the pieces together,” Eaton says. “We see a market segment that has yet to be addressed. We want to be the solution for installing solar on a busy roof.”

One attribute of Day & Night Solar’s canopies that allows them to be adapted for a variety of different environments is their modular and flexible design, which can be moved and adjusted by humans, whereas many other solar canopies require equipment to be moved.

Opportunity for more solar canopies

Eaton sees a major opportunity for expanding the use of solar canopies in the United States.

“Solar canopies as a whole are one of biggest growing sectors in the market,” he says. 

Perhaps the biggest opportunity is in the commercial industrial (C&I) space, Eaton adds.

“With more traditional Main Street U.S.A. downtowns and about 90% of medium businesses, their building roofs are full of stuff,” Eaton says. “Now, we’re giving them another way to participate in renewables.”

Eaton believes the company’s solar canopy solution is scalable and hopes to recruit other contractors to deploy it. While the C&I space offers the most opportunity, Eaton also expects the solution to peel off into other sectors.

“Several markets have been left alone, and it’s the harder ones,” Eaton says. “A lot of people are looking for a cost-effective solution for solar. If they’ve been told they don’t have enough space, then call us.”

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