Pavements are spectacular

The footpath dates back to the very first human settlements. Imagine a town, village, or city without any surface to walk on. What a mad idea! A foothpath is thus the oldest invention of human urban mobility. We do not pay any attention to these concrete paths anymore – much like the air around us. However, frankly, they carry so much more potential than our feet. The George Washington University in Virginia is currently developing walkable solar panels that can be installed on pavements. The project is only in its very early stages but could lay the ground for a whole new walking experience.

Walking on a sea of lights

Spanish solar technology company Onyx developed the first retroilluminated walkable floor. The surface of these panels is made of non-slip glass allowing people like you and me to walk or cycle on it. Cars, on the other hand, are too heavy for the panels that can carry a load of up to 400 kilograms.[1] Later, the technology was given to George Washington University in Virginia to implement the idea. Now, under the leadership of land use planner Eric Selbst, a team of professors and students have installed the first 100-square-foot stretch of pavement covered by walkable solar panels.[2] The idea is that the panels are exposed to sunlight effectively producing electricity to power LED lights installed inside the floor. The energy produced is stored in battery packs underneath the lights. As a cherry on the cake, the LED lights can be configured in any colour.[3] Thus, the next time you go for a stroll during the night you may be walking on a sea of colours. Okay well it’s certainly going to take a long time for that to happen. Yet, the technology is available, the panels work, and the surface is walkable and weather-resistant.

The great need for energy

Today’s world is driven by machines. We’ve long passed the times when technology was used only at work - technology is ubiquitous in our all day life. The downside is that all these machines need lots and lots of energy. Up until now pavements have not been associated with revolutionary ideas such as retroilluminated walkable floors. The potential of this project does not result from the bright shining LED lights but essentially from the huge surfaces pavements offer plus the electricity solar panels can produce. The two just go together. Thus, if applied on a large scale, solar panels in pavements could help fuel street lights with electricity, the tram network, or simply support the city’s electricity grid. With more and more charging points being spread across our cities, with more and more electric cars driving around the urban landscape, we are bound to create new sources of green energy. This could be one of the many we need.

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