Solar road project shines light on renewable energy

Innovation, technology and art will come to a head this summer with the construction of Canada’s first solar electric walkway.

The solar compass will allow the walkway to gather enough energy from the sun to produce about 10,000 Kilowatt (kW) hours of electricity annually. The project will feature thick glass plates, including 64 super-durable solar panels right outside the Arts and Education (AE) building.

According to Michael Mehta, project lead and faculty member in the department of geography, this is enough to power all of the computers in the student computer labs in the AE Building year-round.

“If you look around you’ll see many kilometers of road, sidewalk and parking lots that only serve one purpose. By embedding photovoltaic modules into this infrastructure we can generate electricity,” said Mehta.

“Although the amount of power generated annually isn’t as large as that produced from solar modules mounted at an angle and facing south, flat mounted solar modules can produce about 75% of ideal orientations.”

The panels—produced by Vancouver’s Solar Earth Technologies—are one metre by two metres in size and consist of 50 solar modules each. It will require 32 micro-inverters to convert direct current to alternating current that we typically use in our homes.

“The university’s investment is around $30,000 and the modules themselves are being donated to TRU from Solar Earth Technologies. It will take about 15 years to pay back this cost for the project but I anticipate that the modules will then generate electricity for decades to come at no marginal cost,” said Mehta.

Solar roads and paths are part of a global effort to use existing infrastructure for electricity production, and they are catalyzing a shift toward smart infrastructure that has potential to include embedded lighting and signage, incorporation of networked services for IT systems, navigation for self-driving vehicles, and dynamic in situ charging for electric vehicles.

The main benefit is to promote educational opportunities showcasing novel and transformative solar energy options. It will use existing infrastructure for environmental benefit and advance applied research through partnerships.

“TRU’s sustainability grant made this project a reality. With several faculty, staff, and students on-board, we have a team that will make the solar compass a reality,” said Mehta.