China is looking to transform the global transportation system with the development of solar roadways. Chinese firm, Qilu Transportation Development Group, unveiled the first instance of a photovoltaic highway demonstration. Yes, that would mean highways that can turn sunlight into energy. Qilu Transportation Development Group Co. Ltd. operates as a transportation infrastructure construction company within the “communist” regime. They have developed technology thats uses photovoltaic material that can withstand 45,000 vehicles barreling over every day.
This new construction material will be embedded underneath transparent concrete used to build a 1,080-meter-long (3,540-foot-long) stretch of road in the eastern city of Jinan, China. Qilu Transportation finished laying 660 square meters of road surface on September 2017 and realized grid-connected power generation.
Ambitions for the solar roads don’t stop with just supplying juice to the grid. The Chinese firm sees this as a step towards the convergence of electric vehicle technology with the road. For starters, the highway network throughout the country will become an enormous solar charger for electric vehicles. Taking it one step further the technology will one day facilitate information exchange between roads and vehicles. China wants the road to be just as smart as the vehicles of the future.
To accomplish this the road has three vertical layers. The shell of the road material is see-through allowing sunlight to reach the solar cells underneath. The top layer also has space inside to thread recharging wires and sensors that monitor temperature, traffic flow and weight load.
The Chinese government says 10 percent of all cars should be fully self-driving by 2030. This target is part of President Xi Jinping’s “Made in China 2025” plan to help the nation become an advanced manufacturing power and not just a supplier of sneakers, clothes and toys for export. The 10 sectors highlighted include new-energy vehicles, information technology and robotics.
The team from Qilu Transportation consider that an opportunity to deliver better traffic updates, more accurate mapping and on-the-go recharging of electric-vehicle batteries—all from the ground up.
Current prototypes of the solar road technology are only capable of harvesting energy from sunlight and baring the loads of vehicles. So there is still some ways to go before this concept realizes its potential.
Can This Actually Work?
When first announced online back in 2017 there was much press coverage all over the Internet about the solar road project. On message boards and subreddits across the web the project details where met with a good amount of skeptics.
If we place the project within a historically perspective, one would have reason to raise expectations for this project. Are we not to expect great engineering feats form the same nation responsible for The Great Wall of China. Could we be seeing the development of The Great Road of China built in our lifetime? While this sentiment can seem ambitious, there are many parallels between China’s solar roads and China’s Great Walls.
The Great Wall has been rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced over various dynasties dating back from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Apart from defense, other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road. Regulation of immigration and emigration was also a key feature of the Great Wall. All this while also serving as a transportation corridor.
China’s solar road project also aims to serve multiple purposes. We have already mentioned the roads energy harvesting features. China also has hopes to give the road a brain – providing cars with real-time data on road and traffic conditions. “This is a landmark event for the deep integration and development of the transportation industry and the new energy industry”, Say representatives from Qilu Transportation.
Similar projects have already taken shape around the world, not just in China. The Dutch have been using solar roads for its vast network of cycling lanes. The Dutch government has been implementing similar photovoltaic material on its cycling lanes since 2014. Solar energy generated by the cycling roads are then used to power street lighting & traffic lights, electric cars using the road, and even households.
Ultimately economics will decide if this road material will see more widespread adoption. For now, development of this solar road technology does not come cheap! What do you think, let us know in the comments below.