Solar power is getting a lot of attention lately — and for good reason. As more people around the world realize the important role we play in protecting our planet, it’s becoming more popular to look at alternative energy sources. Today, there are 1.6 million solar installations in the U.S., and this number is expected to pass 2 million in 2018. But beyond solar panels and even roofing tiles, scientists are working on exciting and new possibilities for solar. One Scottish research team has even proposed the idea of adding solar power to city roadways, which could possibly provide a means to power entire municipalities in time.
According to a research team out of Glasgow Caledonian University, this could be accomplished through the installation of tiles made of epoxy-based materials, an embedded concentrator lens, photovoltaic cells, and a recycled plastic frame. The tiles, which would come in sizes comparable to available paving stones, would be strong enough to withstand both pedestrian traffic and rainy weather. They would also contain cooling mechanisms to help them maintain their integrity in scorching temperatures.
The team says that the tiles would harvest enough power from the sun to power entire cities. Although smooth pavement extends a roadway or parking lot’s lifespan by 10-15%, these tiles could support a whole population at a relatively reasonable cost. Although they might be twice the cost of normal paving, study leader Dr. Gowaid points out that the energy produced by the tiles would totally offset the cost — and once that break-even point is met, the tiles would be able to supply electric power for another 15 to 20 years for free.
In a statement, Dr. Gowaid explained: “Should this prove successful, it is our dream that this product can eventually be installed at mass scale anywhere in the world — even in rainy old Glasgow… We want to see the tiles contribute to the energy supply mix of stadia, other sporting facilities and beyond to public squares, pavements, schools and university campuses.”
While there’s still a lot of development to be done here, this team isn’t the only one working on solar-powered walkways or roadways. There’s actually already one solar roadway in existence in Canada. And despite a general lack of sunshine during winter, the amount of power produced by the roadway seems to be on track with initial projections. And a solar sidewalk was installed last May in China. But the concept is still a relatively new one — albeit ripe with possibilities. Eco-conscious consumers will have to wait and see whether solar-powered streets even catch on here in the states.