Roads aren’t just for walking or driving anymore. Solar road or pathway projects around the world are showing that streets can both provide firm footing and generate clean energy. Inhabitat rounded up six projects in places as diverse as China and rural Georgia to highlight potentially game-changing technologies in the solar road sphere.
Scott and Julie Brusaw launched Solar Roadways a few years back with the goal of transforming regular asphalt roads into energy-generating thruways. The Brusaws aimed to use modular solar panels topped with tempered glass as replacement for standard pavement and, in 2016, celebrated the first public installation of these panels in their hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho. While they’d also announced plans to bring their solar roads to a section of Route 66 in Missouri, it appears the project fell through. Late last year, St. Louis Public Radio said the project wouldn’t be moving forward; according to Scott Brusaw, it “dissolved due to a variety of complex red tape factors.” But Solar Roadways is still at work to bring their product to roads and recently shared on Facebook that they’ve met with interested connections from South Korea, Australia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Austria.
In late 2016, France opened what was then the first solar road in the world: a one-kilometer stretch in Tourouvre-au-Perche, built with technology from Colas’ Wattway. The 2,880-panel road was said to generate enough energy to power street lights in the 3,400-person village.
Wattway’s solar roads hit the United States a few months after the road in France. The Ray C. Anderson Foundation installed 538 square feet of the solar road near the Alabama and Georgia border — the first Wattway pilot in America. The solar road was part of the foundation’s project The Ray, an 18-mile living laboratory testing renewable technologies that also includes bioswales and a solar-powered electric car charging station.
Just a few months ago, a one-kilometer solar road, developed by Qilu Transportation Development Group, opened in Jinan, China. Three layers make up the road: insulation on the bottom, solar panels in the middle, and transparent concrete on top. The solar panels cover around 63,238 square feet in two lanes and one emergency lane, and can generate one million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy every year. In a strange twist, thieves actually took a small portion of the road days after it debuted; since the panels wouldn’t have been worth a lot of money, people speculated they might have wanted to learn the workings of the technology. The road was later repaired.
Solar panels aren’t just for highways. Bike lanes can make great use of them too, if one in Krommenie, Netherlands is any indication. After one year, the SolaRoad solar-paneled bike path generated 70 kilowatt-hours per square meter, enough power for around three houses – and even more than the designers expected. Sten de Wit of TNO, the research organization behind SolaRoad, said most people don’t even notice the difference between the solar bike path and a regular one.
Sidewalks can benefit from solar panels, too. Platio recently installed a 50-square foot solar sidewalk, created with recycled plastic, that pulls double duty: people can walk across it as it generates clean energy used to charge electric vehicles. Platio installed the 720-watt peak capacity system at a Prologis facility in Budapest — and the process only took one day. When the solar sidewalk isn’t busy charging EVs, energy it generates helps power a nearby office building.