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How to illuminate solar carports?

Solar carports are an excellent source of clean, renewable energy. They harness the sun’s power, provide shading and protection to the vehicles.

However, unless they are properly illuminated, they can’t be fully functional.

Solar carports are not completely closed structures. They are open to the surroundings, allowing the natural light to come in.

During the day, there is little need for artificial lighting because natural light is abundant. When it is dark or cloudy solar carports need additional lighting to fully illuminate the carport.

If you can’t see where you’re going, you can’t park your car under something!

A lack of illumination can pose a safety risk to both pedestrians and drivers. While adequate lighting allows for the safe use of a carport, it is also required by many building codes around the world.

In this post, we’ll look at how well-planned lighting can help your solar carport. We will also go over some strategies for illuminating your carport and show you examples of successful applications so you can see what works in practice!

Where do you need lighting?

“Where do you need lighting?” may appear not a very relevant question because we are talking about illuminating a solar carport. However, it is actually a very important one.

When designing your solar carport lighting, you need to decide what areas around the structure will require illumination. Although a carport is designed to provide shelter for cars, the lighting requirements for a specific section of the carport may vary depending on its use.

For example, if you intend to store valuable tools or electrical equipment under a carport, you may need to highlight this section of the carport with high levels of security lighting. Also, if your solar carport will have a gate you may also want to highlight the entryway with security lighting.

Signages are another example of how illumination can be used to highlight specific parts of a carport. They should not only mark out different sections of the ground but they must be conveniently lit so that drivers can easily spot them at night or in low light conditions.

Therefore, you may consider highlighting signage by installing spotlights that are adjusted to highlight specific signage.

Proper illumination will add safety benefits by allowing easy navigation around the area when entering and exiting your carport, in addition to highlighting certain parts of your carport.

Ideally, you should plan your carport’s lighting so that no part of the area is left in darkness or obscured by shadows. This means that you should create a base layer of illumination that is uniform and even across the entire project area.

Once you have established your base layer of illumination, the next step is to create a layer of accent lights that will allow you to highlight specific areas. This can be done by strategically placing accent lights around your carport area.

That is why you should have a lighting plan that specifies where and how many of these lights you will need to highlight different portions of your carport. A good lighting plan will guide you to develop a carport that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

How much lighting is necessary for a solar carport structure?

The amount of lighting required for a solar carport structure is largely determined by the expected level of illumination. However, there is always a need for a base level of lighting sufficient enough to allow carport users to move around safely.

The base lighting level is the bare minimum that must be provided. It is not only a legal requirement, but it also contributes to the carport’s overall illumination. Your planned minimum must meet the requirements of your local code.

In addition to this minimum level of illumination, additional and higher levels of illumination may be required for specific needs such as signage, wayfinding, or even aesthetics.

Illumination levels required by your local code should be your primary guide to determining how much lighting is necessary. You should be able to find the required illumination levels online on your local building department website.

If this information is not available, you may want to contact the municipality where you plan to install or currently operate your solar carport.

Contacting your local municipality you can ask what guidelines are applicable and also request sample calculations or drawings.

Acquiring any samples from your local municipality may help you determine the appropriate lighting levels to meet the required illumination for a solar carport.

If you can’t acquire the code-required minimum illumination levels using none of the above methods, the next option is to contact engineering firms within your area. They should be able to provide assistance and sample calculations if necessary.

Please note, contacting companies and requesting something for free is usually impossible. Therefore, get ready to pay for their time and expertise.

Another alternative to find the illumination requirement for your project is to contact industry organizations that can offer assistance in determining what type of lighting would be necessary for a solar carport.

They may be nice enough to share with you relevant documentation for free or at least provide you with information on where to find the required information.

However, a lot of times even these organizations are looking to get paid for their time and effort and packaging information as books or other types of printed materials to sell to the public.

If you have found your local code for solar carport illumination you need to follow its guidelines. It is for your solar carport project not to get rejected or have a hard time receiving permits from the local authorities.

But, let’s assume your local building code doesn’t cover solar carport illumination, what would be some strategies and solutions you may want to consider?

Even if your local code doesn’t address solar carport illumination, there are some general guidelines on how to illuminate solar carports.

The IESNA RP-20 recommends lighting methods and required lighting levels for parking garages that can easily be applied to solar carports.

The standard proposes below values:

  • Recommended Minimum Vertical Illuminance: 5lx
  • Recommended Minimum Horizontal Illuminance: 10lx
  • Recommended Minimum Uniformity Ratio of Horizontal Illuminance: 10:1

Vertical illumination is a measurement of the amount of light on a vertical work plane, whereas horizontal illumination is a measurement of the amount of light on a horizontal work plane.

Both types of illumination are required to ensure safety and this is why it is recommended that both be met.

Should you hire an expert to design the lighting of your solar carport project?

We have mentioned the importance of having a lighting plan. If you have the budget, it is always best to hire a lighting designer. A good lighting designer should be able to provide you with a lighting plan based on your carport plans, which will specify how much lighting is necessary.

Working with a lighting designer (engineer or electrician) may also be required if you are working on a project that requires permits.

If you have a commercial solar carport project, you have to work with an engineer to design and/or obtain permits. Because you will need a lighting plan that meets not only minimum code requirements but in most cases must also meet the needs of your business operations.

However, if your carport project is residential, the code may find it sufficient to work with an electrician to provide the necessary lighting.

Each state and country has its own code requirements and regulations, thus know in advance what permits you need to get the project done properly.

There are a few ways to find professionals that can help you with illuminating solar carports:

The first and most convenient way is to use search engines. Search for “solar lighting” and/or “lighting design”, then filter your results by location or other specific criteria.

By searching online you will most likely find companies that can help you with everything from the design, installation, and permits of your carport’s illumination.

However, this may not be the cost-effective option as these companies tend to charge a large amount for their services.

The alternative is hiring freelance electrical designers who can help you design the lighting system. You can find these people on websites like Upwork or Fiverr.

These electrical designers will be able to help you design the lighting system, but keep in mind that they are not professionals and likely won’t get building permits on your behalf. Also, these people will most likely not be familiar with your local electrical codes.

Thus, if you want to ensure that your solar carport is designed correctly and meets all building code requirements in addition to having it illuminated properly, hiring a professional local lighting designer may be the best option for you.

A lighting designer will have experience with the latest technologies, products, materials, proper installation guidelines for both outdoor lighting fixtures as well as their associated cables or wiring supplies. Also, he will be able to provide you with up-to-date information, including the latest codes and regulations.

There are many things you can prepare ahead of time to ensure the project goes smoothly. The more preparation you do before you start the project, the less costly it will be.

Hire someone with specific experience

You need to be aware of some key things in order to hire a lighting designer. First, you need to ask if he or she has work experience in designing lighting for solar carports. If not, you may still want to work with the person at least the individual has some relevant experience working with solar technology.

Contact your local building department

You want to contact your local building department to see if they want to see certification or accreditation for the person who will be responsible for the lighting project design.

Your local building department should also be able to recommend reliable professionals in your area that has experience designing lighting systems for solar carports based on building codes and regulations.

Ask for references

Once you found the person who can design your lighting project, you should ask for references and make sure to check them out before committing to the project.

Also, you should ask for a portfolio of his or her work so that you can see examples of installations that have been completed in the past. After doing your research and checking out all references, if it seems like this person is right for your job then coordinate with him to schedule an appointment at which time he will take measurements.

Where you can find lighting design experts?

You can work with the local electrical designer, or hire someone from Upwork or Fiverr to improve your sketch on the computer environment. Obviously, the first option is much better since your local electrical designer knows the local code and can help you with the details.

Hiring someone through the platforms like Upwork or Fiverr may cost much cheaper, but you may not find the person who knows the codes in your country or state. If you are lucky enough, you can come across someone offering lighting design services in your area on these platforms. But generally speaking, chances are low with that.

Another option is hiring someone from Craigslist. Craigslist is almost a goldmine since you can find many local professionals there who can help you with lighting. The drawback is that you will need to interview and verify if they have the experience to accomplish what you want.

Working with someone from Craigslist is a little bit more complicated than hiring someone from Fiverr. Because there will be no previous customer review that can help you to verify if they are good or not.

If you will hire someone locally either through Craigslist or through a website I would highly recommend meeting them in person because you will need to see how they behave if you think that they are professional enough and their work is good.

Ask your designer if he/she worked in solar projects and check his/her portfolio. If they have specific experience illuminating carport projects, that’s a big plus.

When you are explaining your project to someone make sure to be as specific and detailed as possible because if they don’t understand what exactly do you want from them, they will probably deliver something else than expected.

This is one of the most common mistakes when working with freelancers. In this case, it is better to provide them with the CAD. This way you will be 100% sure that they are aware of what is expected from them and how it should look like in the end.

You have to keep in mind that good lighting design and installation are quite expensive so if you want your project to be successful, make sure not only to find a good designer who knows what he/she is doing.

What factors should you consider designing solar carport lighting?

Light Output 

Light output is the measure of how much light is actually emitted from the source. It is measured in Lux, Lumens, and Candela. The higher the number, the brighter and more efficient the light.

Usually, the higher the power of the light source, the higher the light output will be. For instance, a 50W conventional bulb will give much better results than a 25W one.

However, LEDs can produce more light while using less power (Watts). For example, a 6.5W LED lamp will provide the same amount of light as a 50W Halogen bulb. As a result, Watts doesn’t provide an accurate measure of light output or brightness.

You can find the formulas to calculate light output right here.

Although lighting design calculations are generally straightforward, you may still find it hard if you are not good at math.

If you have a commercial solar carport project, you will be required to work with a professional lighting designer who can help you determine the appropriate light levels for your project.

However, with more preparation, you can ask better questions to your designer and save time and money.

Light Distribution

Light distribution is another important factor to consider, as your carport will need an even distribution of light. The light fixtures should be evenly distributed throughout the carport and mounted to achieve an even distribution of light.

At any given time, there should be no areas of the carport that are too bright or dark. Both extremes will cause problems for drivers and can be dangerous.

Light Source Technology

The light source technology you use will also affect your solar carport lighting design as well as the overall cost of your project.

There are various lighting technologies available and many factors to consider. Here are the most common light sources that are utilized for carport and garage projects.

High-Pressure Sodium (HPS)

HPS lamps have been used for indoor and outdoor parking illumination, as well as the majority of other exterior lighting needs, for the past 20 years.

The lamp is a high-intensity discharge (HID) lamp that produces light by excitating sodium contained in an arc tube. An induction ballast produces current regulation for the lamp. HPS lamps, which are available in a wide range of wattages and lumen levels, are regarded as one of the most efficient HID sources.

Lamp envelopes come in clear or coated varieties, with clear being the most popular. HPS lamp light is yellow-gold in color and has a low color rendering index (CRI), making it difficult for people to identify colors in spaces lit by HPS lamps. HPS lamps are unaffected by ambient temperature.

HPS lights have a good lumen depreciation, with output dropping to around 75% to 84% of original lumens by the rated end of life.

Because HPS arc tubes are fairly small, allowing for improved reflector designs, this light source is thought to be fairly efficient at directing lamp lumens to surfaces that require lighting.

HPS lights have a warm-up and a restrike period. The restrike period is due to the lamp needing to cool after being switched off before the arc can be re-established.

It takes three to four minutes for a typical lightbulb to stabilize after a cold start, and only one minute to restart after a short outage.

As a result, HPS is inappropriate for switching applications that require fast launch. There are, however, dimming systems that may be utilized with HPS lamps, making them suitable for adaptive control systems.

Ceramic Metal Halide (MH)

When white light is required, MH sources are one of the primary alternatives to HID solutions to HPS lamps.

MH lights were once thought to be fairly efficient, although they had a substantially lower-rated life than HPS lamps.

Other disadvantages of MH lamps were color shifts during operation and occasional failure difficulties. However, advancements in ceramic metal halide technology have significantly boosted the efficiency and life of the lamp. Metal halide lights are not affected by ambient temperature.

Ceramic MH lamps have a low lumen degradation, with output falling to around 90% of rated lumens after 16,000 hours.

Because MH lamps are very compact, allowing for improved reflector design, they are thought to be fairly efficient in directing lamp lumens to surfaces that require lighting.

There is a warm-up and a restrike time for MH sources. A normal lamp takes 1.5 to 2 minutes to stabilize after a cold start and roughly 10 minutes to restart after a brief power outage.

As a result, MH is incompatible with the switching required for fast startup operations. However, there are dimming systems that can be utilized with MH lights, making them suitable for adaptive control systems.

Fluorescent Lamps (FL)

Linear fluorescent lamps are frequently used for parking garage lighting. They have a long lifespan, are relatively inexpensive, and can be utilized for many parking applications.

Because of their long warmup times, they are not ideal for high bay lighting where quick on/off cycling is required. Their frequency response also tends to be poor and transient flicker can occur when dimming at certain frequencies.

The starting temperatures for an FL lamp are restricted depending on the ballast and bulb type. Furthermore, the output of FL lamps is affected by temperature.

T8 bulbs, also known as T8 or one-inch diameter fluorescents, are generally designed for a 25°C (77°F) ambient temperature. Lumens are reduced in temperatures above and below the rated temperature.

The light’s temperature in the fixture (luminaire) is determined by design. However, during periods of severe cold or heat, the output will be lower.

Many linear fluorescent lamps have an excellent lumen depreciation rate. However, fluorescent lights are non-directional, which means they emit light in all directions. As one might anticipate, much of this light is lost (for example, that portion that is directed at the ceiling).

FL sources are large, therefore they are not regarded as highly effective in directing light to the areas that require illumination. However, their large size helps to significantly reduce glare.

Linear FL sources are ready to use, requiring no striking or extended warming period, and they come on instantly. They may also be controlled with dimming ballasts.

Many of these fixtures’ programmed start ballasts are rated for more than 100,000 switching cycles, making FL lamp technology suitable for the frequent power cycling required by daylight and occupancy controls.

Induction Fluorescent Lamps (IFL)

IFL lamps are a fluorescent-based technology that generates light by exciting the lamp phosphors with a magnetic-induction coil rather than electrodes. This significantly increases the lamp’s expected life.

Different manufacturers provide various wattages and envelope kinds. All wattages are suitable for usage in a solar carport installation.

IFL lamp starting temperatures are fairly low, ranging from 32°C (25°F) to 40°C (40°F), depending on lamp wattage. Although lamp power varies with temperature, IFL lamps are appropriate for cold-weather operation when installed in a properly designed and enclosed fixture. Amalgam tip coverings are also available for speedier warm-up in extremely cold operating circumstances.

The IFL bulbs have a moderate lumen depreciation, with output falling to roughly 64% of rated lumens by the end of their lifespan.

If the lamp life were assessed in terms of L70 (the number of hours before the lamp brightness is predicted to decrease to 70% of rated lumens), as LED sources are, the life would be around 60,000 hours rather than 100,000 hours.

Because IFL lamps are so big, they are not expected to be as powerful at directing lumens to surface areas that need illumination.

IFL lights are instant-on, which means they don’t need a strike or a long warm-up period. As a result, they, like FL lamps, may be controlled to switch on and off according to the amount of daylight and the presence of patrons.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED)

LEDs have advanced significantly in recent years, becoming one of the most powerful solutions for carport illumination. LEDs are durable and have a long life cycle, which reduces maintenance costs.

Single LEDs are small and light, allowing for good optical control, and the driver used to power the LED is dimmable and digitally adjustable. Each LED has a low light output and low power consumption. Single LEDs can be placed in bars, strips, or fields to offer efficient illumination in lighting applications.

However, LEDs have downsides such as heat sensitivity, lower efficacy when driven at operational current, and a high initial cost when compared to other lamp types.

Furthermore, due to the small size of individual LEDs, they must be carefully integrated with optics in a luminaire to avoid glare. Phosphor-based broadband LEDs produce more blue light than other lamp types, but produce less green light, posing color recognition issues.

LED technology is rapidly evolving; there are numerous chip designs, and LEDs consume far less electricity than conventional bulb types.

The amount of light emitted by LEDs decreases as the temperature of the semiconductor rises (junction temperature). The lumen output of LEDs is measured at a temperature of 25°C (77°F), depending on the current used to power the LED. Heat not only affects an LED’s power, but it also has a cumulative effect on an LED’s lifetime.

The light output of an LED bulb is hardly affected over time. LED bulbs retain more than 95% of their lumens for the first 10,000 hours, but depreciation accelerates after roughly 35,000 hours, depending on temperature and amperage.

LEDs are more directional, directing light away from the luminaire rather than in all directions as with omnidirectional HID, FL, and IFL lights. Because reflector design is highly successful with point-source LEDs, secondary optics have enhanced LED-lamp efficiency (85% to 95%). Also, LED sources are instant-on, requiring neither a strike nor a lengthy warm-up period.

LEDs have been found to be twice as likely as other technologies to be labeled as glaring, therefore additional precautions should be taken to reduce the glare effect.

Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED)

OLEDs are flexible, transparent, and glare-free, allowing for a wide range of creative luminaire solutions. OLED technology is ideal for decorative lighting as well as applications that require the use of light in architecture.

One possible garage application is an array of OLED modules covering a walkway. OLEDs are, however, unsuitable for parking garage applications because of their low efficiency and high cost.

Before OLED components may be used for area lighting, they must be integrated into luminaire design. OLEDs are vulnerable to water exposure, despite the fact that the layers of the substrate can be placed uniformly to give extremely uniform brightness. As a result, OLED luminaires used outside must be covered in glass, increasing their veiling luminance.

The lifespan of an OLED is determined by the temperature at which it is used. For every 10°C rises in outside temperature above room temperature, an OLED loses 31% of its useful life.

Because OLEDs are placed in clear flexible substrates, heat sinking is limited, and OLED luminaires rely heavily on natural air convection to keep temperatures stable. It is assumed that the light output of OLED will be constant until it breaks.

Because OLED lighting is made up of large panels that produce diffuse, homogeneous light, it is inefficient at directing lamp lumens to the surfaces that require lighting.

OLEDs have a quick response time. Dimming reduces the temperature of an OLED panel’s core, which improves both lumen output and life expectancy.

Light Emitting Plasma (LEP)/Plasma Lamp

LEP lamps, sometimes known as plasma lights, are a type of LED light that combines the durability of LEDs with the high efficacy of point-source optics. Unlike LEDs, they are full-spectrum and do not require phosphor coatings.

Plasma lights, which are frequently utilized as grow lights, high-mast lights, and warehouse illumination, have a high lumen density (12,000 lm to 23,000 lm) and directed character that may make them too bright and harsh for low-bay or parking garage luminaires.

The major benefit of an LEP lamp over an HID, FL, or IFL lamp is the highly directional “puck” that emits the light, which increases fixture efficiency by up to 90%. The full spectrum output also delivers improved mesopic/scotopic illuminance, which improves nighttime visibility significantly.

Since they are highly directional, plasma lamps distribute excellent light with minimal loss.

Lm/W-SourceLm/W-SystemLife-70% lumen output Color TemperatureColor Rendering IndexSystem Cost Relative
FL9785-9840,000 hr3000K-6500K81-85$
IFL63-8463-8460,000 hr3500K-5000K80$$$
HPS80-12561-10730,000 hr1900K-2100K22$$
MH105-120100-11124,000 hr3000K-4200K90$$
OLED40-602310,000 hr -20,000hr2900K-3300K>80N/A
Table Source: LUXIM, CREE, Osram-Sylvania, and Philips technical specifications.

Types of Fixtures

The fixture design can have a significant effect on how well you distribute lighting throughout the carport. A well-designed fixture can minimize glare and spillover and while increasing lighting efficiency.

There are so many types of fixtures on the market, it may be difficult to decide on the best type for your carport. However, I am going to cover what you need to know in order to make an informed decision.

Fixtures that provide a narrow beam angle are the best at lighting specific areas, such as individual parking spots. Lights with a wider beam angle are good for lighting large areas such as the entire carport. In an ideal carport lighting design, you need a combination of both types of fixtures.

A fixture that is too bright for your application can cause safety problems by creating glare and reducing visibility in the neighboring areas. In this case, to achieve the required illumination levels, you may want to use more fixtures providing a lower lumen output.

When planning your solar carports, you should know exactly how much light you need and where it should be directed. Yes, you can find this out by yourself via trial and error. However, it is kind of a poor approach that may not yield desirable results.

If you don’t know how much light you would need for a specific part of the area, you can consult a lighting designer or engineer with experience designing carports.

In some cases, the carport manufacturer will offer a choice of fixtures, which can be designed to meet specific lighting requirements or provide different levels of brightness. If you have a chance to see a real-life example of their work, it will help you visualize how much light you need.

Weather protection

Although solar carports are partially closed structures, they are still exposed to the elements and require protection from wind, rain, or snow. Therefore, you should make sure that all fixtures are sealed and weatherproof.

If the carport is installed in a place with potential temperature extremes, make sure the product description offers a wide range of operating temperatures. You should know the minimum and maximum temperatures in the installation location to make sure the fixture will function properly in winter and summer.

Corrosion protection

Corrosion is a common problem, especially in outdoor settings. The ability to resist corrosion makes it possible for the product to last longer. If the carport is installed in coastal areas or near saltwater, make sure to choose products that are resistant to corrosion.

Fixtures that are made of stainless steel, aluminum, or other materials that offer galvanic corrosion protection are a good choice. Make sure to choose an option that is corrosion resistant and designed to resist damage from sunlight, rainwater, snow, or ice buildup.

Therefore, carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions to determine if the product is appropriate for the intended application.

Beam Angle

The beam angle is the spread of light at a certain height measured in degrees.

Generally, the smaller the beam angle is (also called “spot”), the more focused and intense the light will be. A narrower beam angle works best for illuminating specific areas like parking signs. On the other hand, a wider beam angle creates an even distribution of illumination over a larger area without dark spots in certain areas that might not be reached by the light.

Therefore, carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions to determine if the product is appropriate for the intended application. Illuminating light fixtures are available in spot, flood, adjustable spot/flood, and non-adjustable varieties at most home improvement stores.

Height Above Ground Level

The height of the light fixture above the ground level is another important factor determining illumination. If you have a high enough mounting height, installing fixtures on the ceiling of the carport can provide an even light source without dark areas.

However, if your carport doesn’t have much ceiling height, installing fixtures at the ceiling level only may not be enough to provide even illumination. In such cases, you must install fixtures along the sides of your carport as well.

Number of Fixtures

The number of fixtures you should install depends on the size of your carport. The number of lamps should depend on the surface area and height above the ground you want to be illuminated. Make sure that your lamp(s) provide enough illumination for all areas around the solar carport.

Color Temperature (CCT)

Color Temperature (CCT) refers to the warmth of white light. The lower the color temperature is, the warmer it appears. The lower CCT means that solar carports will emit a yellow or red glow instead of blue-white light.

Color Rendering Index (CRI)

Color Rendering Index (CRI) is the ability of a light source to show colors in an accurate manner. The higher CRI is, the more realistic objects appear under illumination by that lamp.

Should you get Automated vs Manual Controlled carport lighting?

Once you make sure to calculate the right amount of lighting, you will need to decide if it should be automated or controlled manually.

Manual control as its name suggests requires someone to turn on/off the lights when they are needed. This is a more cost-effective option and generally best for smaller systems and is generally better when it comes to price.

Automated control is controlled automatically without human intervention. These systems are capable of detecting the amount of light in an area through light sensors and adjusting themselves accordingly. They also allow you to program your solar carport lighting system at certain times and settings so that they automatically operate in a specific way.

Automated control can also be achieved by using motion sensors. When a car or pedestrian passes through the carport area, sensors detect this movement and turn on the lights.

However, using motion sensors should only be complimentary since you always need a base level of illumination for the carport. The last thing we want is having an accident or dangerous situation due to a faulty motion sensor that fails to illuminate the area.

Should you power carport lights from solar panels?

Powering carport lights with solar panels is a great idea since the source of the lighting is free. However, it is not necessarily required. Your carport’s electrical infrastructure may require you to plan for powering the lights with traditional sources.

If you choose to power your carport lighting system with the carport’s solar panels, then you should be aware that during the night there is no solar conversion. You will need to back up your lighting system with a battery pack and/or grid connection.