Following on from the roaring success renewable energy enjoyed in 2016, the global progress towards this form of energy shows no signs of slowing. Electric cars are the exciting new technology grabbing all the headlines at the moment, but here’s one you might not have heard of: solar-powered roads. In case it sounds niche, at the moment, it is! It’s still in its infancy right now, but given a bit of time and some sustained investment, it’s a technology that has the potential to transform our roads.
The first solar-powered road in the world was opened late last year, in the tiny French town of Tourouvre-Au-Perche in Normandy. Endorsed by the French government and built by highway company Colas, the solar road stretches to a modest distance of 1km, and consists of an interlocking network of solar panels, which are covered in a silicon-based resin that lets them withstand the weight of the larger HGVs. It’s expected to be used by about 2000 motorists a day over its two year test period.
It’s starting small with its current goals – at the moment, the idea is just for it to generate enough electricity for it to power the surrounding street lights. However, if the French government is satisfied by its success, French ecology minister Ségolène Royal wants these panels installed across 1000km of French highway over the course of the next five years. Meanwhile Colas says they already have over 100 other active solar road projects around the globe, and are looking at ways to reduce the initial cost of installing them.
It’s a fantastic start, with some noble goals, and it’s far from the only project of its kind, even if we discount Colas’ other initiatives. Solar Roadways, a US company founded by a husband and wife team, are receiving some pretty encouraging support from the American government. They’ve already got three rounds of federal funding, with a further $2 million in venture capital. The aims of Solar Roadways are similar to those above – if anything, they’re even more ambitious. Their panels contain LED lights to simulate the painted markings on roads, and can even heat themselves to combat the accumulation of snow and ice. Instead of a silicon resin, they’re made from a specially formulated type of glass to resist the weight of passing trucks, and Solar Roadways have installed miniscule clusters of microprocessors in each road which can communicate with not only each other, but also a central control station and eventually even the vehicles passing over them.
There’s a lot of scepticism surrounding these projects at the moment, and to be fair, they’ve not been cheap. Having said that, pioneering ideas rarely are, and we’ve got to start somewhere. If projects such as those by Solar Roadways find lasting support and success, we could be looking at solar roads which integrate with another rapidly growing technology – that of electric cars. One day, electric vehicle owners may be able to park up in solar car parks, which will charge their cars while their owners go about their day, ready for them to return a few hours later. An even more ambitious – but so far tentative – vision involves solar roads that are so advanced that they can charge electric vehicles even while moving. And if the current projects proceed according to plan, that day might even be closer than you think!
Whatever ends up happening on our roads, you can still count on our solar panels to provide you with clean, renewable energy all year round. Don’t hesitate to check out our case studies to find out how our solutions are already helping businesses just like yours. Don’t forget, if you have any questions or need any help, you can always contact us on 08456 808963.
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