SOLUTIONS: PV Canopy for a Bocce Court


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A 5.7 kW PV array does double duty as a bocce court shelter.
Below: An SMA Sunny Boy 5 kW grid-tied inverter, with an outlet for courtside electricity.
System owner Tom Godwin rolls a bocce ball, while solar neighbor Kevin Green waits his turn.

Tom and Carol Godwin had solar energy in the back of their minds when they designed and built their house in 2010, but didn’t bring solar expertise onto their team until I entered the picture several years later. I found small, south-facing roof areas that were shaded by each other and nearby trees. Using the Solar Pathfinder, I identified the best site on their small, narrow property—at one end of their bocce court. A PV canopy over the court was a good fit. The couple installed a whole-house 12 kW generator when the house was built. With backup power already in place, a batteryless PV system seemed like an appropriate choice.

Tom is an investment planner, and PV made sense to him for stabilizing his electricity costs during retirement. He also wants to leave the planet in better shape for his great-great grandchildren. Mild peer pressure from close neighbors and friends, who have been using solar electricity for many years, was also a factor in the decision.

Building a freestanding structure added significant expense, but the Godwins ended up with more than twice the system the small roofs could have accommodated—plus better performance. Dana Brandt of Ecotech Solar designed the PV system, and his crew installed it in one eight-hour day. “I love that the structure not only supports the array but provides shade for the court. It feels like such a waste to build a ground-mount structure that does nothing but support the array,” says Dana. “Any time a ground-mount system can serve an additional purpose, such as a carport, covered storage, or shaded area, feels like a win to me.”

Architect Chris Keyser (who also designed Tom and Carol’s house) designed and engineered the post-and-beam structure to support the array and complement the house. Bill Chagnon of Crater Lake Building and his crew constructed the structure, using pre-made galvanized steel brackets and stainless lag bolts to tie the 6-by-10 rafters to the 6-by-8 posts. Set on top were 4-by-10 purlin timbers. Made from pressure-treated wood, the structure is expected to outlast the 25-year module warranty, giving the homeowners reliable electricity for decades.

The 5.7 kW array uses 20 SolarWorld 285 W modules on Unirac SolarMount racks, and a Sunny Boy 5 kW inverter. The inverter has SMA’s “Secure Power Supply” sunny-day backup capability. A subpanel and outlet was installed at the power center behind the bocce court, allowing some electricity use courtside.

The couple is pleased with the system’s production. Tom checks the meters daily, and reports seeing modest production even on cloudy days. This spring, the system produced up to 40 kWh per day. The system’s generation is zeroing out the couple’s 11 kWh per day average usage, and, since the system’s commissioning in April, a megawatt-hour of clean solar electricity has been made. When the system will be running net-positive, Tom may trade in his hybrid vehicle for a pure electric model.

Comments (2)

Robert Pollock_2's picture

Very encouraging to see a Financial Planner buying into all of this. The ultimate answer for any naysayers, regarding the viability of renewables.
Our house (and a million others) are in similar circumstances as far as houses go, and some of us are incorporating a strategy for our cars, too.
This project is in a perfect position to capitalize on battery storage technology, but personally I think he's a year ahead of what he'll need; A great big LIth ion place to store at least 40 kwh of electricity, the more the better. That costs anywhere from $150 to $450/kw, right now.
Additionally, (I'm sure he's done the calculations already) he'll have to assess how he'll drive the car or how many times per week he'll need to charge it. 200 miles per week in a Chevy Bolt needs a 80% charge once per week, which would be about 50 kwh of electricity. He'd have to generate, not use but save in his battery, 7 or 8 kwh per day.
The beauty of the system once it's worked out, is that he doesn't have to buy any other equipment, just the battery (and a charger) and he'll be using almost every electron volt his PV array is making. That's very good and worth imitating. Ditto for the roof business. Our roof is 45 years old. I'm a general contractor that cut his teeth fixing snow load roofs. Now way I'm putting any panels up there, but we live in the low desert, and shade is the name of the game so there are two good locations on our lot, for a shaded, power and food producing area.
It's California, I might grow a little medicine too.

tbaldwin2132's picture

I'm interested in going off-grid, as much as possible, on some property my brothers and I purchased. The problem is, I will be in the valley part of the property, surrounded by trees. How far up the mountain will I possible have to go to clear land for either solar or a wind turbine. I don't want to loose the beautiful of the forest. The house I would like to build on the property will be no more then 500 sqf but I have to use medical equipment and need to be all electric. The home I have know is about 1000 sqt and I used 1097 KWH a year and the only thing gas is my hot water heater and floor furnace. Also, can more then one small home use wind turbine or some solar panels? I'm wanting this to be my permeate home. PS. If it's any help, my gas budget is only $37.00 a month. Thanks for any help you can provide.

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