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Our future cities will have solar panels built into the pavements


A girl dances on the Circular Solar Panel, also known as the Sun Salutation, a pavilion of photovoltaic (PV) cells built for an art exhibition in Zadar, Croatia. PV cells, the building blocks of solar panels, convert light energy directly into electricity. weniliou/Shutterstock

Al Gerard de la Cruz, Property Report

Students in Canada will soon have the distinction of walking on the same stuff that powers their homes.

A 1,200-square-foot pathway “paved” with solar panels will open this summer in Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. Located outside the institution’s Arts and Education Building, the literally sunny sidewalk can generate around 15,000 kilowatt hours a year or enough electricity to power 40 desktop computers for eight hours a day.

Part of the Solar Compass Project, the ingeniously designed road surface poses a challenge to the longstanding assumption that solar farming is designed for out-of-the-way locations. Researchers hope that assimilating solar arrays in such manner into urban infrastructure would free up desperately needed agricultural land.

“There is some concern, and it’s justified, that people will start to use arable land for solar farms, because it’s lucrative,” Michael Mehta, a geography and environmental studies professor at Thompson Rivers University who heads the Solar Compass Project, told the Vancouver Sun. “We think that using existing infrastructure like roads and pathways makes a lot more sense.”

Aside from harnessing the energy of the sun, the sidewalk has potential to carry fiber-optic signals for telecommunications. Its creators have also envisioned it to display dynamic road signage, in keeping with changing weather and traffic conditions.

“This solar surface is the scaffold for all those future applications,” Mehta said. “Once we prove the concept, all those other things are relatively easy to embed in this technology.”

While very durable in theory, the Thompson Rivers solar sidewalk has not been tested to withstand the weight of fire trucks, for example. That honour could go to US-based firm Solar Roadways, currently building solar-powered lanes for automobile use.

The Thompson Rivers solar sidewalk is also not the first of its kind. In 2014, a 250-foot solar bike path opened in the Netherlands.

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