While the idea of solar powered streets might seem like something out of a futuristic film, the technology is in practice in areas of Europe and Asia.
In 2014, a popular concrete bike path in Amsterdam was embedded with crystalline silicon solar cells to generate electricity. The path’s panels, covered by rubber and tempered glass, underwent five years of testing and can withstand 12 tons. While the original embedded path stretched just 230 feet, it generated enough electricity to power a small household for a year. After three years of continued testing, the SolaRoad creators will consider expanding the technology to other areas of the Netherlands.
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China, the current global leader in solar energy, is also experimenting with solar roadways. Considered the “world’s first photovoltaic highway,” a 1 kilometer stretch of expressway in Jinan positions a layer of solar panels between a bottom layer of insulation and a top layer of transparent concrete. The roadway, which includes two lanes and an emergency lane totaling an area of 63,200 square feet, is said to be able to generate one million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in a year for nearby street lights, snow-melting systems and EV charging stations.
While the Jinan highway has been successful in its goal of power generation, the project has faced a couple of roadblocks. First, the solar road’s steep price tag of $458 per square mile means expansion will be slow. However, its price does not compare to the highway’s unforeseen problem: thieves. Less than a week after the road opened for testing, inspectors found that one of the embedded photovoltaic panels had been stolen, and seven more had been damaged by a professional team of robbers.