Work has started on what is claimed to be the UK’s first solar carport to be installed on the top level of a multi-storey carport in Exeter.

The council’s Mary Arches car park will have two 150kWp solar carport structures that will provide protection to cars parked on the top level of the carport.

The contract for the challenging project was awarded to Devon-based installer and 2014 Solar Power Portal installer of the year, SunGift Energy following a competitive tender.

The first stage of the project has seen the frames for the carports crane-lifted onto the Mary Arches car park. Once the frames are in place, SunGift will fit the 500+ solar modules. The solar installation is predicted to generate over 285,000kWh of electricity per annum, saving more than 150 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted in the process.

“Solar car ports in a situation of this complexity have never been done before in the UK,” explained SunGift’s solar specialist Gareth Walton. He continued: “It’s an exciting move for both us and Exeter City Council. The top floors of the car parks are perfectly placed for making the most of the sun’s free energy, as we’ve been able to optimise the angles of the solar panels on the car park deck. This means that the panels will generate the maximum amount of energy, while providing a benefit to the car park. It is a great example of where solar can be used to deliver dual benefits and it’s also an indication of where the industry is heading.”

The company claims that detailed planning and designing were key to realising this project which has had to use specialist mounting equipment that was designed to ensure the structural integrity of the car park.

“This project allowed us to do what we do best – use our years of knowledge and experience working on specialist projects to produce a bespoke system that meets the requirements of both the customer and the site,” added Walton. “While the roofs of multi story car parks are the perfect location for solar, there are also many potential problems, so it requires an extremely high level of technical expertise.”

The carport is the latest in a number of projects which Sungift has carried out on Exeter City Council buildings including the Civic Centre, Oakwood House offices, Material Reclamation Facility and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Exeter City Council again,” added Walton. “They’ve shown time and again that they are ahead of the game when it comes to introducing innovative renewable energy projects that will save the public purse huge amounts of money.”

In addition to the electricity generated, the council will also benefit from the associated feed-in tariff revenue from the project.