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University creates "world's first walkable solar panel pathway"

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October 9, 2013

The university's first-of-its-kind Solar Walk (Photo: The George Washington University)

The university's first-of-its-kind Solar Walk (Photo: The George Washington University)

Image Gallery (4 images)

We typically see photovoltaic panels up on roofs, as they're broad, open surfaces that receive a lot of sunlight. You know what else spends a lot of time in the scorching sun, though? Sidewalks. With that in mind, a team at Washington DC's The George Washington University has created what is claimed to be "the first walkable solar-paneled pathway in the world."

The 100 sq ft (9.3 sq m) rectangular Solar Walk was made using walkable PV floor panels manufactured by Spanish tech company Onyx Solar. Designed to be walked on, each solar energy-harvesting panel has an anti-slip surface and can support a load of up to 400 kg (882 lb).

The path, designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology, incorporates 27 of the translucent panels which together have a peak capacity of 400 watts. That's enough to illuminate an array of 450 LEDs that light the pathway at night, shining up through the panels from beneath. It also includes a trellis that hosts additional solar panels on top.

Studio39 Landscape Architecture built the Solar Walk, which can be found on the George Washington's Virginia Science and Technology Campus.

Sources: The George Washington University, Onyx Solar via World Architecture News

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
23 Comments

I bet everybody reading this had the exact same thought: "how about solar roads then?"

Grunchy
9th October, 2013 @ 03:54 pm PDT

Solar roads have already been proposed, it's the gum and other crude that will get stuck to to the sidewalks.

Bob Flint
9th October, 2013 @ 05:31 pm PDT

No, I was thinking "why don't they raise it above the sidewalk and provide some useful shade".

Wombat56
9th October, 2013 @ 05:37 pm PDT

How much energy is lost to shadows and dirt.

Proof that no mater how bad the idea there is somebody willing to try it.

Slowburn
9th October, 2013 @ 07:48 pm PDT

"The 100 sq ft (9.3 sq m) rectangular Solar Walk was made using walkable PV floor panels manufactured by Spanish tech company Onyx Solar. "

Doesn't this mean that the Spanish tech company came up with "the first walkable solar-paneled pathway in the world."

Rt1583
10th October, 2013 @ 12:41 am PDT

@Slowburn

"Proof that no mater how bad the idea there is somebody willing to try it"

The potential of this product is not limited to sidewalks covered by trees. I know here in Texas, a vast majority of sidewalks are not covered and the nearest tree could be 500ft away.

Silverbird
10th October, 2013 @ 06:43 am PDT

First?? I thought Solar Roadways prototypes were the first ...

Julien Ahoy Fournier
10th October, 2013 @ 06:44 am PDT

@ Silverbird

People cast shadows and leave dirty footprints.

Slowburn
10th October, 2013 @ 07:56 am PDT

I would like to try these out on my dock and float.

Richard Dicky Riddlebarger
10th October, 2013 @ 09:44 am PDT

Hmm so how have they solved the shadows and dirt issue

I guess you can use some fance electrics or diodes to stop shadowing being an issue a total issue and I guess not 100% of the path would be in shadow perhaps.

So dirt and wear - thats a more interesting one - is the surface gorilla glass or soemthing - lol never tried to walk on a mobile phone or table to see what would happen to the glass - guess could use a replable film - but then is the film more expensive than the energy - guess there must be a solution out there.....

Still love the LED in the pavement idea - could do a certain michail jackson number lol.

myale
10th October, 2013 @ 10:02 am PDT

obviously no one is getting the message out...SOLAR ROADWAY'S

IS HERE...google it ...fantastic finally founder SCOTT BURSHAW

xerxies
10th October, 2013 @ 10:09 am PDT

@Slowburn

You keep forgetting the /S at then end of your posts. I can't believe anyone would seriously think that a solar panel/walk way combo's down side is that when people use the walkway the solar panel is less efficient.

LordInsidious
10th October, 2013 @ 10:18 am PDT

Integrate heaters and backup grid power (for night time snowstorms) and major campuses could likely save a lot on insurance and snow shoveling in the colder areas.

Natrinicle
10th October, 2013 @ 10:18 am PDT

"I bet everybody reading this had the exact same thought:" NO. First thought I had is WHY IS THE INSTALLATION OFFSET FROM A REAL SIDEWALK. Are they afraid some one will step on it? As for dirt, there is rain, as for gum, I've seen sidewalks cleaned with scrapers & pressure washers. I like the idea it's anti slip. "each solar energy-harvesting panel has an anti-slip surface and can support a load of up to 400 kg (882 lb)." strong depending on how big a panel is. Real sidewalks are abut 4" thick with some steel net reinforcement, and the sidewalk is on top of soil prepared to evenly support the cement. If the sidewalk is across a driveway the concrete is 6" thick. I don't see any trellis in the picture that's mentioned in the text. I see a post that is probably a light with a battery that could be powered by the solar cells.

[Check the photo gallery for a picture of the walk with the trellis. We used the other photo in the article, as it showed the walk better. - Ed.]

Dave B13
10th October, 2013 @ 11:07 am PDT

I love this. About time it happened. This opens up vast areas of electrical generation, enough to get us off climate changing fossil fuels before we suffer apocalyptic disaster. We need a Manhattan project for renewable energy NOW!

ezeflyer
10th October, 2013 @ 01:14 pm PDT

@slowburn

That is a straw man excuse for dislikeing this technology. Don't cut off your nose to spite your face because you have a negative additude on everything that isn't your creation.

Silverbird
10th October, 2013 @ 01:57 pm PDT

The idea that solar panels should make a good road surface or a surface for a foot & bike path, is a bit ludicrous, when we spend so much of our lives in buildings with roofs and walls. Our cars have roofs also, and spend much of their time exposed to direct sunshine. We have so much acreage now available for solar photovoltaic panels that it boggles the mind. There's absolutely no reason to pave any roads, walkways and bike paths with solar photovoltaics, it's idiotic. It's just window dressing to show off the idea of using solar photovoltaics, but will have near zero impact on the electrical energy requirements or providing any significant fraction of the available energy we can get from roof and wall-mounted solar PV panels.

Jay Dillon
10th October, 2013 @ 04:47 pm PDT

@everyone

Dirt and shadows may play a part if this design ever reaches production but there are some key issues before that.

The area is 9m^2 and produces 400W. So the efficiency is pretty low. That doesn't necessarily rule it out because you are talking about sidewalks after all with lots of area available. That means for this to be viable however, the cost of one of these tiles should have the prospect of being quite low if it were mass produced. It doesn't mention the material but it looks like a ruggedized thin film.

Assuming the costs (and even projected costs) of current materials, I don't see any way that the economics of this can work. You are far better off building a sidewalk (designed for purpose) and putting up 2 solar panels on a pole (also designed for purpose) than by creating a hybrid of this kind. Unless there is some new material being used?

SamB
10th October, 2013 @ 04:48 pm PDT

Thanks Ed, I see the "trellis" in the background. The trellis has plain sidewalk underneath. I am very perplexed when the presented inovation as a load bearing material that is to walked on as sidewalk and it's set off on the side where it won't be walked on. A benifit of solar power in outdoor applications is you do not need to run wire from an electrical distribution system to a light or other item you want to power, and you do not have a recurring utility bill for the item to pay. I don't see these as items that will be tied into the power grid to supply power to it, a conclusion some seem to jump to. The application I think this would be good for is marking at night, along the edges of airport runways or perhaps in roadway curbing, through curves. Could actualy be cheaper if you don't need a huge pole and wiring for the roadway use, where the entire general area does not need to be lit.

Dave B13
11th October, 2013 @ 05:46 am PDT

I just want to know if it has a Billy Jean sidewalk mode.

L1ma
11th October, 2013 @ 06:53 am PDT

seems railroad tracks or power lines have a bunch of real estate, that could be used for solar ?

Jay Finke
11th October, 2013 @ 10:16 am PDT

@Slowburn

I read Gizmag daily and you ALWAYS have something negative to say about renewable technology, even if you are grasping at straws. I know you don't like solar or wind or electric vehicles or biofuels or such. But seriously, people shadowing the path? How many walkways are constantly shadowed by people? Especially if it is placed in direct sunlight? And in this case why would an installer install it under a tree. There are surely plenty open spaces with minimal shadowing for installation.

One of the biggest R&D movements of solar energy is to create dual purpose components (i.e. photovoltaic integrated building materials) to reduce installation costs, material costs and overall embodied energy of construction materials. Why should one pay for materials and installation twice just to harness energy from the sun? If they can find the right efficiency versus price point this is definitely a step in the right direction IMHO.

ccb
18th October, 2013 @ 05:41 am PDT

And they use it to power decorative LED lighting...quite possibly the most useless solar panel in the world. It's also disappointing that they didn't put it on an actual path that people would walk on, so it's not going to get any foot traffic to test the durability. What's the point?

James Patrick
23rd October, 2013 @ 02:13 pm PDT
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