WisBusiness: Solar Carport looks to recharge plug-in hybrid vehicles

By Rachel Zwirlein

For WisBusiness.com

VERONA – Motorists have used carports for decades to shield vehicles from the ravages of weather, including paint-fading sun. Now comes an idea for using solar-collecting carports to help power vehicles.

Solar Carport Canopy is a product that can provide an innovative solution for businesses looking to economically power plug-in hybrid vehicles while reducing costs and their carbon footprints.

As a contestant in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, Farhat Iqbal of Verona developed the idea for the Solar Carport and was one of 50 entrants to move to the semi-final phase of the competition.

Iqbal is the president of Silica Solar LLC in Verona. The idea for Solar Carport came from her desire to create a tangible way to use solar energy to generate electricity for plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Solar Carport would be leased to individual firms to recharge company-owned and employee plug-in hybrids throughout the Madison area and beyond.

Although it is mechanically and structurally engineered for Wisconsin winds and snow, Iqbal said, Solar Carport can be used in any location where there is a need.

Businesses are going to start looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprints and non-polluting solutions. “Solar is one of the options,” Iqbal said.

There are other incentives for companies to own carports, such as the federal investment tax credit and state focus on energy rebate. However, according to the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, Madison-area companies investing in such a product would need about three years to break even on their investment.

The carport can recharge electric cars without drawing as much power from existing electrical grids, thus reducing costs and mitigating damage to the environment.

There are currently solar canopies that generate electricity but are not used directly to charge plug-in hybrid cars. The carport’s most direct competitors are non-renewable energy generators. Similar at-home solar carports cost upwards of $50,000 dollars with a $7,000 installation fee.

“People are excited about it,” Iqbal said. She believes there will be a growing trend to use electric cars because the price of oil is so volatile and electricity is essentially cheaper.

Iqbal believes the time is right for the carport. “It is time because we are moving onto new sources of energy,” she said.

“Oil is expensive not only environmentally but economically, as well,” Iqbal said.

Prize winners in the business plan contest will be announced June 9-10 at the annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

— Zwirlein is a student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the UW-Madison.