Intelligent Build Tech – Revolutionising Urban Spaces: The Transformative Impact of Technology on Public Infrastructure – 3ti talk solar car parks

Ben Marchant, Chief Operating Officer at 3ti

The UK has around 30,000 car parks with some 13 million public and workplace parking spaces across a range of locations, including offices, shopping centres, train stations, offices, sports venues and factories. If just 20% of these spaces were converted to solar car parks, annual solar generation would be around seven terawatt hours of electricity. To put this into perspective, this would replace all the UK’s remaining coal-fired and oil-fired stations power stations.

Looking more closely at 2035 needs, just over a decade away, the UK government and Deloitte break it down like this. We need 5x as much solar capacity, 23x as many EV charge points and around £50 billion of upgrades to the grid to connect them all alongside the electrification of heating. That’s a lot of money, and we’re already below target. That means we need new technologies that enable this energy transition to happen much faster.

By utilising existing spaces in areas such as car parks, we will be able to speed up the process and catch up to other European countries, such as France – who last year approved legislation to install solar panels on all car parks with more than 80 spaces. Solar car parks are the perfect opportunity to tap into an otherwise underutilised resource, providing an immediate solution to the UK’s need to ramp up the roll-out of solar and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

Solar car parks can not only be used to generate electricity for EV drivers, businesses and destinations but also play a pivotal role in supporting the electricity grid. With the UK needing to double its electric capacity over the next decade – and more than treble it by 2050 – EVs plugged in at workplaces, leisure destinations, fleet depots and delivery hubs can help balance peaks in electricity supply and demand.

Our new Papilio3 V2X Fast Hub project (funded by the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero, delivered by Innovate UK) is currently exploring how bi-directional charging and DC microgrid systems can resolve the key issue of intermittent electricity supply from renewables. We believe that this is the next step in electric vehicle charging, ensuring that businesses maximise revenue generation, support the shift to zero emission transport and reduce the burden on carbon-intensive on-peak rapid charging infrastructure.

From hospitals to leisure centres, facilities across the UK are utilising our unique three technology approach, integrating solar, batteries and EV charge points to generate onsite renewable energy from existing spaces such as car parks and rooftops to reduce electricity costs and carbon emissions. Our award-winning Papilio3 pop-up solar car park has been key to delivering this, operating as a smart grid ‘in-a-box’ that can host up to 12 EVs at a time, housed within an upcycled, rapidly deployable shipping container that can be easily placed in most locations.

In addition, with around 50% of UK households unable to charge an electric vehicle at home, destination and workplace solar car parks are also a cost-effective and accessible way of providing charging infrastructure to those wanting to make the switch to electric vehicles. In such cases, public areas like car parks become crucial, contributing to achieving net zero targets by 2050 and establishing optimised electric vehicle charging infrastructure ahead of the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles.

Supporting solar car parks across the UK is not just an eco-friendly choice; it is a strategically imperative one. While the sun may not always shine, solar power is already playing a key role in the UK’s journey towards a net-zero future. If we are painting a picture of a sustainable future, with charging fuelled by solar energy, then the UK already has enormous potential. We must act now to ensure that we correctly harness this technology to speed up our country’s energy transition and create a more sustainable world for our children and grandchildren.

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