In September 2015 SunGift Energy completed the UKs first ‘solar carports on the top decks of two multi-storey car parks.

Solar ‘Carports' on Multi-storey Car Parks Roofs: First in UK on Exeter City Council Buildings

Contributed by | SunGift Energy


The systems – commissioned by Exeter City Council for two of its largest city centre car parks – are the most complex solar project that SunGift has carried out to-date. SunGift, the Council and the various other technical specialists working on the project had to solve a significant number of technical challenges before the project could start.

Car park solar has been done before, but not like this.

The solar carport projects have broken new ground, not only in the south west, but also nationally:

  • UK First: They are the very first of their kind in the UK
  • ‘Dual benefits’: Previously, cars parking on the top decks of the car parks were ‘out in the open’, but parking outside is less attractive. The solar carports allow customers to park undercover, generating more usable parking spaces, happier customers, renewable energy, lower bills, FIT payments, and increased parking revenue.
  • Technical firsts: The project required SunGift, the Council and the various other technical specialists to find solutions for many obstacles and technical problems (see below).
  • Solar electric vehicle charging: Car park users will be able to charge their electric vehicles, for free, using renewable energy generated directly from the car ports.
  • Technical and structural innovations: 9 months of technical and structural work carried out to prepare and devise a technical solution that worked from a PV, structural and parking perspective.


Local Benefits

The project helps to demonstrate the benefits of solar PV to Exeter’s residents, businesses and visitors. There are many significant local benefits from this project, including:

  • Local delivery: The vast majority (99%) of the project has been delivered by Devon-based companies.
  • Local installer: The system was designed and installed by Exeter-based SunGift, whose staff, including their own directly employed installation teams are all South West-based, with many living in or around Exeter.
  • Local design and engineering: Frames manufactured by Devon-based Blackhill Engineering to design by Exeter-based structural engineers BSW, Blackhill and SunGift Energy.
  • Local scaffolders: The bespoke safety solution to provide suitable temporary edge protection was designed and installed by Devon-based firm ISCA Scaffold.
  • Local financial benefit: The income and savings from the PV systems will directly benefit the public purse, meaning less burden on tax payers.
  • Benefit to local shops: Providing covered parking spaces encourages more shoppers to shop in Exeter rather than elsewhere, helping local businesses.
  • Reduced running costs for local voluntary organisation: A local voluntary organisation based in a building next to John Lewis Car Park will be sold energy from the PV system on the car park by the Council at a reduced price.



There were a number of barriers to the project:

  • Longer payback: There is a longer payback period compared to standard rooftop PV systems because of the greater installation cost of the project e.g. the cost of the carport frames.
  • Maintaining parking spaces: The car parks are high energy users, so it was important to utilise the top decks but without compromising parking services or reducing parking income. Some other councils have installed PV on the top decks of their car parks, but have sacrificed the parking and closed the top decks. The carports allow Exeter City Council to keep its parking facilities, the parking revenue and generate renewable energy.
  • Challenging sites: The car parks are in busy city centre locations and had to remain operational throughout the installations. With significant amounts of materials to deliver and lift onto the top decks of the car parks, disruption had to be minimized. This was achieved through a number of measures, including a detailed traffic management plan, co-ordination of materials so everything could be craned onto the top decks at the same time, finding a specialist non-standard telehandler strong enough, but small enough to fit in the car parks.
  • Safely working at height: Working on the top deck of two multi-storey car parks presented challenges in terms of safety and access for materials. For example, a bespoke solution that provided suitable protection from a health and safety perspective at the edge of the car parks while the frames were being installed, but could easily be taken down once the project was complete despite the fact that there was very little clearance between the frames and the external walls of the car parks had to be designed especially for this project.
  • Structural challenges: Designing bespoke carport frames that work from a PV, structural and parking perspective presented some very difficult structural challenges due to the age and construction of the car park decks which had to provide both the structural strength and the fixing point for the frames.
  • Securing internal support: Support for the project had to be won within Exeter City Council and the financial and business case had to be proven and approved.



The solar carports will:

Generate 285,227 kWh per year of renewable electricity

Save more than 150 tonnes of CO2 per year

Wider programme

The carports are part of Exeter City Council’s renewable and energy-saving programme, with the goal of delivering long-term financial and carbon savings as Exeter strives to be an ‘Energy Neutral’ Council. This is backed up by an innovative, financially-supported programme that is already producing substantial savings.


The Council’s target is to reduce its base-load energy consumption, deliver financial savings and a 30% carbon reduction within 3 years. This year the council has reduced its carbon emissions by 24% and by 2016/17 will have reduced its total electricity bill by 40%.

LED lighting and electric vehicle charging

LED lighting has been installed in the Council’s city centre car parks, reducing electricity consumption by up to 65%, saving money, reducing maintenance, and improving the quality of the lighting. Also, the Council have installed electric vehicle (ev) chargepoints in the car parks, which are available for free public use. These will now provide ev charging from solar PV.



As far as we are aware, these are the first solar PV systems on carport frames on the top deck of multistorey car parks anywhere in the UK. It is a great example of where solar can be used to deliver numerous benefits and an exemplar that can help inspire and inform other similar projects elsewhere. It’s replicable locally, regionally and nationally.

National interest

The project has already led to enquiries from other councils and car park operators about similar schemes across the UK.

Leading ‘low carbon’ council

The project reiterates Exeter City Council’s position as one of the leading councils in the UK in terms of the low carbon agenda - generating clean energy, cutting CO2 emissions, saving energy, reducing bills and creating an independent source of income. As well as this project the Council has:

  • Installed solar PV systems from SunGift at its Civic Centre offices, recycling facilities in Exeter, listed Royal Albert Memorial Museum, the museum’s storage facility, and at its Exton Road Offices.
  • Retrofitted LED lighting throughout its Civic Centre Offices and most City Cente car parks
  • Replaced the old inefficient old boilers the Civic Centre with a cleaner gas alternative. 
  • SunGift to install a 1.5MW PV system on the roofs of the Livestock Centre in Exeter in 2015.



The project has been positively communicated:

  • Through coverage in:
  • Numerous local publications.
  • National trade media.
  • National industry-specific press.
  • Directly to existing and potential customers.
  • As a case study for other interested parties.
  • Sent to MPs.
  • Highlighted extensively through social media channels.

Both the council and SunGift have been contacted by other councils and car park operators interested in similar projects. Both Exeter City Council and SunGift will actively share the knowledge gained.



The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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