The concept of solar roadways has been in the news a lot recently. Using the millions of miles of roadways throughout the world to also create power seems like a no brainer, the asphalt and concrete we’re using now aren’t really accomplishing anything more than handling the traffic on the road. But, there’s also a very strong reason why those products are used: they’re strong, reliable, and relatively durable. Still, many researchers believe there is a lot of unharnessed potential for roads and the world now has a very strong test subject for the future of solar roadways in Tourouvre-au-Perche, France.
Wattway, a pholtovaltaic road pavement system, has been in development stages for the past 5 years. Colas, a worldwide infrastructure company, and INES, the National Institute for Solar Energy, joined forces to create what they think is the future of roads. Unlike other solar road systems, Wattway uses existing roads as the base and the solar panels adhere directly on top. The material, which is less than an inch thick, allows for both the thermal expansion of the material beneath, as well as the ability to handle the load from vehicles driving on it, according to the company.
Recently, a small village in France, named Tourouvre-au-Perche, became the first to have the system installed on its roads and the first in the world to have a solar road of any kind. A 0.6 mile (1km) road in the village has been covered by over 30,000 square feet (2,800 square meters) of solar panels, according to The Guardian. The road, which is expected to handle around 2,000 vehicles a day cost over $5.3 million (€5m) to complete. The panels will undergo a test period of 2 years in order to determine their true durability and figure out how much energy they can actually generate. Initial tests have indicated that it will take 215 square feet of panels to power the average French household, as panels that lay horizontal have proven to be much less efficient than those that are tilted.
There are some other trial of solar pavements ongoing in other places across the world, as well. Solar Roadways (of “Solar Freakin’ Roadways” fame) went viral and raised over $2 million on Indiegogo last year. They also struck a deal to test their panels in Sandpoint, Idaho last year, but their trial has been disappointing, to say the least. The company installed 30 solar panels in a pedestrian only pathway and they encountered manufacturing problems that they’re still dealing with today.
We’re interested to see how further trials of solar roads work out, but proponents of the technology believe that the technology is too expensive for the benefit. Others believe solar paneled roofs should be perfected before moving on to roads.
What do you think? Will solar roads catch on in the future?
Below is a video with some additional information on Wattway:
Rapid growth and the industrialization are the major contributors to China’s noted air quality issues. 4 years ago, the Chinese government issued a “war on pollution” aiming to improve air quality and reduce other environmental hazards, such as land and water contamination. Air quality is at its worst in the winter months across the country, due to households relying more on coal power to heat residents’ homes.
Asphalt is one of the world’s most popular pavement materials. Because of that, researchers and scientists are constantly looking for ways to improve upon it. Additives have been included in some asphalt mixes for years to improve strength, but recently researchers have been getting pretty clever with the types of additives they’re testing.
As great as a product as asphalt is, there’s no doubt that there is room for improvement. Scientists all over the world are trying to solve its most common issues, such as potholes, cracking, ice build-up, and storm water drainage. Los Angeles is now tackling another issue with the material: heat island effect.
In March of this year, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would begin taking orders on their Solar Roof Shingle concept. Tesla Solar Roof is a solar power roof system that eliminates the need for bulky solar panels installed over top of traditional roof materials. Instead, the shingles themselves, which come in a variety of different styles, are the solar panels.
At the company’s second quarter earnings report, Tesla announced that the first solar roof installations have been completed.
Standard vertical elevators have had it too good, for too long. After the first cable dependent elevator was unveiled in 1857, not much has changed in the elevator industry. They’re still using cable systems and still only going up and down. But not anymore. ThyssenKrupp has officially made a multi-directional elevator a reality.
There’s no shortage of company’s trying to improve the world’s roadways. Asphalt and concrete each have their own disadvantages, especially when maintenance environmental factors are taken into consideration. Plastic is a major problem for landfills, as well, as it can take an estimated 500 years to fully decompose. One UK company believes they can solve both maintenance and environmental problems through the use of recycled plastic.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is constantly researching ways to improve construction process and materials, like this material 10 times the strength of steel, or this solar cell that’s lighter than a soap bubble, or this “reversible concrete.” This time the Institute is showing off its autonomous robot that can spit out building structures on site within hours.
One of the most challenging issues with modular construction, of any kind, is the sheer size and weight of many of the components that need to be transported and lifted in place once onsite. That presents a specifically tough situation for jobsites that are not easy to get to. Arup, a design, engineering, and consulting team in the United Kingdom, has developed and successfully implemented what they say is the “world’s first modular glass-fiber, reinforced polymer bridge.” You may remember Arup from their testing of a “living wall” scaffolding cover that we wrote about last year.
Snow causes all kinds of travel nightmares and not just on the roads. Snow and ice can cause major airline delays and flight cancellations. Because of these issues (and the large amounts of money to be gained by solving them) several different groups of researchers have been hard at work figuring out ways to reduce and remove snow and ice from pavement without the need for chemicals and snow plows. The first technology to get a full scale test slab installed at an American airport, however, came from Iowa State University professor Halil Ceylan.
Maybe I’ve had my head in the sand for a while (forgive the pun right out of the gate), but I've recently found out that the world is suffering from a shortage of sand. The New York Times reports that the increasing demand of sand from manufacturing and construction in combination with rising sea levels and human development of shores is reaching crisis levels. Sand is used in plenty of construction activities, from mortar to concrete to brick and asphalt. We use a LOT of it. In fact, concrete production takes a whopping 80 percent of all the sand that is mined. So what can we do? One company says the answer is to drink more beer.