A highway built out of robust solar panels that generate energy throughout the day has actually become a reality thanks to Chinese engineers. The engineers have dubbed it the very first photovoltaic highway the world has ever seen. (Although France opened one of their own back in 2016.)
Regardless, the Chinese opened the highway on the 28th of December 2017, in Shandong, a province in China. The highway involves a 2 kilometer stretch fitted with solar panels which the engineers say will also charge electric vehicles that drive over them through remote charging technology. Buried underneath a layer of transparent concrete and silicon, the photovoltaic cells stay intact whilst cars pass overhead.
Zhang Hongchao, Chief Scientist at Shandong Pavenergy, the company that built the highway, explained how the cells are kept safe. He said:
“The top layer has good flexibility which can both withstand the pressure of large vehicles and protect the fragile amorphous silicon boards underneath.”
Engineers expect the road to generate 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year through its 10,000 solar panels. The Daily Mail confirmed that the highway cost approximately US$2.7 million.
Thievery closes the highway
The only problem with solar PV installations is that every single solar panel, as part of a group, works together for the highest output possible. If one panel is removed it interrupts the production of electricity.
This is what happened at China’s new, shiny, solar highway. It was reported that during the construction of the solar highway, men were seen taking photos of the road. On the 1st of January, two weeks after the road was opened, a portion of the road had been expertly cut out and stolen. Seven other panels were also damaged in the illegal operation.
The road has subsequently been closed due to the thievery. Xu Dehao, a construction professional at Shadong Pavenergy, said:
“We can speculate the damage was not done by hand, nor does it appear it was done by a big vehicle. It was more likely done by a professional team.”
The thievery may highlight a worrying trend for future public technology installations.
Interestingly though, the stolen solar panels are set to be replaced at a lower cost - solar panel prices are dropping. For this reason and because China is trying to speedily curb its cities’ air pollution levels solar projects are taking off.
“China's Solar Expressway Meets Light of Day.” China's Solar Expressway Meets Light of Day - Xinhua | English.news.cn, www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-12/29/c_136858183.htm.
Mailonline, Alex Matthews For. “Cutting-Edge £2million Solar-Panelled Highway Is Targeted by Thieves Less than Two Weeks after It Opened in China.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 7 Jan. 2018, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5243757/Cutting-edge-solar-panelled-highway-targeted-thieves.html.