7 creative ideas for solar canopies and carports

Sometimes people think that solar panels are ugly, but here are some creative installation ideas that might change your mind.

Solar awning on a Los Angeles home. Credit: Lumos Solar
Solar awning on a Los Angeles home. Credit: Lumos Solar

A lot of the time, homeowners feel the need to hide their solar panels by mounting them on a rooftop away from the street. But with a little creativity, solar panels can be used as an attractive architectural design element.

One of the underappreciated characteristics of solar panels is that they can be used to provide shade. With some smart design, you can make use of this by integrating solar panels into shading structures for your homes, such as pergolas, canopies, and carports.

Types of solar panels for shading

You can use any type of solar panel for a shading structure, including conventional monocrystalline or polycrystalline modules. But if a unique design that will stand out is your goal, you should consider frameless solar panels.

Frameless solar panels are exactly what they sound like: they lack the aluminum frame of a conventional solar panel. There are two types: frameless solar panels with a backsheet, and glass-on-glass panels.

Glass-on-glass panels are made by sandwiching solar cells between two panes of glass. This makes for a visually unique design, because the gap between the individual solar cells is transparent. Because of this feature and the lack of a frame that borders the panel, this type of panel has a very striking look.

Frameless panels with a backsheet are not transparent, because the rear of the panel is covered with an opaque backsheet rather than glass. These panels have a clean look because there’s no frame that borders the panel. If the backsheet is dark and the panel uses monocrystalline silicon, you’ll end up with an attractive, uniformly dark panel.

Here’s a selection of completed designs using a variety of solar panels that might change what you think about solar panels.

Solar overhang with glass-on-glass panels

Example of a solar overhang with glass-on-glass panels by Lumos Solar
Lumos Solar

This beautiful modernist home in Sarasota, Florida uses Lumos Solar glass-on-glass solar panels. Here, the panels are mounted on a steel structure that integrates the panels seamlessly into the roofline.

With the panels placed as an extension of the roof, this design gives protection from the rain and also provides passive solar shading from the midday sun.

At the same time, this system generates several kilowatts of power.

Freestanding solar pergola with glass-on-glass panels

Example of a freestanding solar pergola with glass-on-glass panels

This custom structure in Harker Heights, Texas does a beautiful job of combining steel, wood, and glass-on-glass solar panels into a unique design.

One detail to appreciate is that frameless solar modules are designed for better appearances on both sides of the panels, especially when it comes to wiring. Just like in a conventional solar panel, these panels are wired together in strings. But with a well-designed installation like this one, the wiring is hardly visible.

Solar powered carport with EV charging station

Example of a solar powered carport with an integrated EV charging station
Wind & Sun

There’s nothing like the Zen feeling of owning an electric car that you charge at home with solar electricity. This is a nice design of a two-car carport that conveniently incorporates a level 2 charging station.

This a great example how to beautifully use conventional materials like steel and wood while adding the functionality of conventional solar panels on top. Because of their placement, you might never notice the 15 solar panels on top that should generate in the neighborhood of 4 kilowatts.

Fixed patio awning with conventional solar panels

Example of a fixed patio awning with conventional solar panels
Team All Star Construction

A smart solar canopy doesn’t need to have a radical design. Here’s a nice example of a patio structure that discreetly adds standard solar modules on top.

The upside of a design like this is by using conventional solar modules, you can reduce the cost of the project.

Freestanding solar pergola with 30 glass-on-glass solar modules

Example of a solar flat plate collector.
Hugh Lofting Timber Framing

This custom freestanding space will make for a great outdoor patio area with plenty of room for cooking and seating.

Not only does this design do a great job of providing softly filtered light underneath the glass-on-glass panels, but the contractor did a professional job of discreetly handling the wiring and combiner boxes.

With 30 solar panels, this fantastic space should generate up to 9 kilowatts of power.

Parking canopy with glass-on-glass modules

Example of a solar flat plate collector.
Terawatt Roofing

Here’s another great example of a solar car canopy. This installation is for a commercial location, but you can easily imagine a scaled-down version in your driveway.

This is another beautiful example of seamlessly combining glass-on-glass panels with steel and wood. Note the sloped panels that shed water into a discreet gutter system on the right side.

Steel patio canopy with conventional solar panels

Here’s a great example of a functional patio canopy that effectively uses lower cost conventional solar panels. You can see that conventional panels like these use an opaque backsheet, but a little light still filters through.

The contractor did a nice job of hiding the wiring and combiner boxes into the steel scaffolding. Courtesy PHAT Energy

Advantages of solar pergola, canopies, and car ports

As you can see, a little creativity goes a long way. If you’re interested in solar power, you don’t need to be limited to a rooftop installation. There are some significant advantages of taking this approach:

  • Easier maintenance. If you have a problem with a rooftop solar installation, you will probably need to contact a solar company to bring a bucket truck to your home to service the panels. This type of service call can greatly increase the cost of fixing a problem. On the other hand, if you have one of these solar structures, the panels are a lot more accessible, and could potentially be serviceable by the homeowner.
  • Not limited by your roof. Your roof might not be ideal for solar. It could be shaded by trees or buildings, it could be oriented in the wrong direction, it might not have sufficient space, or the sunniest side could be facing the street, which you might not want for curb appeal reasons. With one of these structures, you have more options to orient the panels in the best direction to capture the most energy.
  • You don’t have to worry about roof repairs. With a convention roof-mounted solar array, if your roof needs to have major repairs or a replacement, you have to pay to have the solar panels removed and reattached, which can add a couple thousand dollars to the cost of the roof. But with one of these structures, you don’t have to worry about that.
  • It’s a conversation piece. If you have one of these striking designs in your yard, your neighbors will definitely ask you questions. If you’re a big solar advocate, it’s a great way to show off the potential of solar energy.


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