China is building solar roadways – ‘transparent concrete’ atop solar cells that charge driving cars

solar-china-freaking-roadway5-e1513823809763China is building roadways with solar panels underneath that may soon have the ability to charge cars wirelessly and digitally assist automated vehicles. This second solar roadway project – part of the Jinan City Expressway – is a 1.2 mile stretch. The building technique involves transparent concrete over a layer of solar panels.

Construction is complete and grid connection is pending, but is expected to be complete before the end of the year.

The Jinan City solar highway is formed with three layers. The top layer is a transparent concrete that has similar structural properties with standard asphalt. The central layer is the solar panels – which are pointed out as being ‘weight bearing.’ The bottom layer is to separate the solar panels from the damp earth underneath. The road will be durable enough to handle vehicles as large as a medium sized truck.

It was noted by engineers that wireless vehicle charging could soon be integrated and automated car functions could take advantage of the inherent data in this this already wired roadway.

No details were given on which solar panels being used. Two separate sizes could be seen from the images below. It looks like the solar panels are covered with a film to protect them from workers moving over them. Notice in one picture there is an individual sitting down with wires showing between the solar panels connecting them.

Last September the Quilu Transportation Development Group completed the first solar roadway in the same city of Jinan. This is the same  state owned company that built the first one. The first project took 10 months to complete and is fitted with 790 square yards of solar panels. Looking at the images below, the layer above the solar panels seems like a thick layer of wax (or really dirty glass).

Even though Solar Roadways have their critics, they are being tested in multiple locations around the world:

-The Netherlands was first to dip their toe in the solar roadway waters by building a solar powered bike path in 2014.

France soon followed suit by building a solar roadway of their own. The project is in the Normandy village of Tourouvre-au-Perche. The 1 km (0.6 mile) long solar road installation consists of 2,800 sq m (30,139 sq ft) of energy-producing panels. The system cost about 5m, and is expected to serve about 2000 motorists a day. France has since set a very ambitious goal of installing over 1000 kilometers (621 miles) of solar roadways.

-Idaho-based Solar Roadways has received three rounds of U.S. government funding (plus $2 million in venture capital) to test its technology.

Electrek’s Take

Two things I think are important to take away from this news –

  1. Everyone that made fun of solar roadways (I don’t know of any serious engineers that gave positive feedback on the idea) might end up with egg on their face. How many of these groups considered that solar panels might be below 20¢/W? How many of these people considered that clear concrete would be a viable thing? China has the solar chops to take on real research and experiment with things that might fail – I no longer doubt solar roadways might work.
  2. Infrastructure Integrated Photovoltaics (IIPV) are being found in more and more places. And as solar technology gets cheaper and more efficient – look for more examples than these reported on here to be developed.
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