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Should All Car Parks Go Solar?

A car park with solar canopies installed
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Jul 19, 2023
3 minutes read

Car parks have plenty of space that’s open to the elements, providing room for potentially thousands of hours of solar power generation across the UK. SIG Building Solutions recently installed solar canopies over office car parks in the south of England. One array consisted of over 2,000 panels with a 1MW capacity, capable of providing electricity to hundreds of homes at a time.

As well as being able to provide electricity to the surrounding area and to help charge EVs, the canopies also protect the vehicles underneath. Shielding them from rain, snow and excessive heat gain, drivers can leave their cars without worry. More often than not, these solar canopies are installed next to facilities with a heavy power consumption, like shopping centres and hospitals.

In France, legislation came into effect earlier this month for all car parks that have over 80 spaces must cover them in solar panels. The move is estimated to add around 11GW of renewable energy capacity to the grid. Meanwhile, the UK is lagging behind in solar legislation. The only solar canopies being erected are from private companies that are happy to pay for it.

Power hungry businesses have been looking to decrease their reliance on the grid since the start of the energy crisis after the onset of the Ukrainian war. The best way to keep costs down is to rely on renewable power generated on site. In the long run, such price spikes will not affect businesses as much.

Research from the UCL Energy Institute and CPRE has highlighted that the urban sprawl within the UK has massive solar potential. They believe that 117GW of energy could be generated from the built environment, of which 11GW could come from car parks. While the UK currently has a 15GW solar capacity already, 40GW is needed by 2030 if net zero targets are to be reached.

The 11GW capacity for car parks is only an estimate, but it’s based on the assumption that only half of the space of the existing car parks would be covered in these solar canopies. It’s also using the assumption that they are around 130m². Other estimates for car park sizes put these up to 200m², so the 11GW of expected solar output may be on the small end of the spectrum.

Solar canopies do come at more of a cost, simply because of the steel structures that need to be installed first. While it is cheaper to add solar panels to the roof of a building, solar canopies over car parks have the potential to unlock more energy generation. Some estimates put rooftop solar at 9p/kWh compared to 15p/kWh for solar canopies.

The main benefit of using solar canopies over car parks is that you’re putting land that is already in use to an additional use. Instead of limiting ourselves to one-function areas, getting more out of any space is crucial, especially when it comes to energy generation. Other static structures could also benefit from these types of solar installation, such as railways. Floating solar panels can even sit on reservoirs to limit the amount of moisture evaporated in extreme heat.