With over 64 million kilometres of roads and highways in the world these ribbons of black seem like a logical place to start when converting the world to renewable energy. But while it may sound like a simple idea there are many engineering challenges to tackle before cars and trucks can roll down solar highways.
Engineers in China have decided that a good idea is a good idea and have begun construction of the world’s first solar expressway by converting 2 kilometres of the Jinan South Ring Expressway into a PV electricity generating expressway. Smaller solar roads have already been tested in France and within Jian South city centre itself but this is the first expressway or highway.
Using a simpler and more practical design than those proposed by Solar Roadway in 2014 or the Netherlands solar cycle lane, engineers have side stepped many of the challenges. There are no LED lighting systems, no tempered glass or complex modular solar panels. Instead the Jian South Ring Expressway uses a three-layer design that is comprised of a transparent cement top layer with the texture of asphalt, simple naked photo voltaic panels in the middle layer and an insulating lower layer to protect the solar panels from nature seeping through.
Eventually engineers would like the expressway to be able to charge electric cars as they drive along the expressway but the current iteration of the technology will be used to power houses and factories in the local area. The expressway can even use some of the free power to melt snow that builds up on the road. Proving that keeping things practical and starting simple to begin with is always an intelligent approach.
The city of Jian South is home to 7 million people and is one of China’s technology distribution hubs, like many large cities in China it periodically suffers serious pollution problems. The solar expressway is a perfect fit under these circumstances. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of December 2017 with the Expressway able to handle traffic up to medium sized trucks.