Feed-in tariff rates for solar projects might be at risk of falling substantially, but the same cannot be said for companies or facilities needing to offset their energy use.

And Mike Staplehurst, chief executive at Cambridge-based Solar Cloth Company, believes that using otherwise redundant estate such as car parks is a key example of how sites can boost their green credentials without looking to exploit Greenfield land.

Talking to Solar Power Portal, Staplehurst discussed the recent car port project his company helped develop at Harvey Hadden Sports Village in Nottingham, and how the market for similar projects could be just about to take off.

How did the project come about?
Nottingham [Council] is a forward-looking organisation in terms of its sustainability and solar credentials, in fact across all energy credentials they are very keen to put themselves forward as an ethical green county if you like. The city itself has been investing quite heavily in things like the redevelopment of Harvey Hadden Sports Village. EvoEnergy, which is the lead partner on the project, has a very strong relationship with Nottingham and when they were looking at energy and how energy generation could play a part in their strategy, one of the things Evo promoted was the concept of utilising parking estate to generate energy that could be used directly on site. Through the EvoEnergy partnership they engaged with us, and we then were able to deliver the 40 parking spaces at Harvey Hadden. It's very much a partnership model, we've provided the product but they provided all the commercial relationship which allowed this to happen.

What was different between this project and others you've worked on?
The Solar Cloth Company is fundamentally all about tensile structures and using Brownfield estate – whether it's car parking or existing building facilities – as a way to generate energy that you can use internally and offset your load on the grid. One of our key plays in the market is using what we consider to be a disruptive technology, because of its flexibility and characteristics. We believe this plays well into both buildings and different kinds of structures. Car park estate is otherwise a bit redundant.

Was there any opposition to the plans at all?
Not that we're aware of actually. Nottingham was the lead on this and they did all the planning, but I'd say it was inquisitive than anything else because obviously the site is quite close to the road so when this was going up, we had quite a few people wondering what was going on. We're certainly not aware of any concerns about the installation and I believe it's been taken quite positively.

How do you pitch for sites which could be used in such a way?
We're all familiar with tariffs falling through the floor which means there is quite a bit of emphasis on sites which use a lot of energy actually wanting to offset their load on the grid and therefore expenditure. If you can utilise your carpark estate to generate you energy – it's not a change of use, it's not like a wind turbine which is a huge structure – you can do that in a way that's very complementary to the whole site. It brings a whole new dynamic to the application of solar.

Is this something you feel needs to be taken more seriously across the UK?
Absolutely, whether it's councils or any organisation that has a relatively large car parking estate, they should really be looking at it and thinking how they could utilise it to offset what is an evergrowing cost of energy. There have been other civil implementations, but it's the first case I'm aware of which is a public installation of a commercial site like this. If you look at both the cost and the implications associated with taking Greenfield sites to generate energy, this is an application of solar which is suddenly becoming very real. It's estimated that there's several million car parking spaces all over the UK. We're never going to put solar on all of them, but in some respects whether it's a park and ride, an industrial site or other sites similar to this one, there are a lot of places that use a lot of energy that have large parking estates, and it's redundant space that could be used to enhance both green credentials and give you a clean energy source to offset your own load or export back to the grid. It brings a whole new field of where we can look at putting solar, and represents a whole new use of solar.