Drivers on Interstate-85 in rural Georgia may find themselves motoring over a stretch of solar pavement, one of the first to be installed in the United States. Solar roadways use photovoltaic modules—solar panels, like the ones found on rooftops—to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. With goals of creating clean, sustainable energy to power lighting and signage, monitor road conditions, communicate with autonomous vehicles, and more, solar roadway technologies are indeed gaining momentum.
The solar technology deployed in Georgia comes from French company Wattway, which developed a system of solar panels that can be installed directly on a road's surface. Each panel includes solar cells and sensors inserted into a composite material that’s just a few millimeters thick. The resulting photovoltaic pavers are then installed directly over existing pavement. What’s more, the pavers are skid-resistant, adapt to thermal dilation, and are strong enough to support the weight of continuous traffic, including six-axle trucks. Wattway is conducting dozens of outdoor tests like the one in Georgia and says it hopes to commercialize the technology in 2018.
One of Wattway’s largest installations to date is a test site in the French village of Tourouvre-au-Perche, a small Normandy village. The nearly 2,900m2 (3468 yd2) of solar panels along the one kilometer stretch of road generate 280kW of electricity at peak. By 2021, France plans to extend this project to stretch a whopping 1,000km (6201mi), which could produce enough electricity to power all the public lighting in a town of 5,000 for a year.
Other companies are developing solar road solutions as well. A Dutch consortium constructed SolaRoad, the world’s first bike path made from solar panels. The 72m (79yd) stretch located in Krommenie, near Amsterdam, produced enough electricity in its first month to meet the electricity needs of a nearby residential home. SolaRoad consists of prefabricated panels of roadway topped with a tempered glass surface. Under the glass, silicon solar cells collect solar energy that could power the road's lighting, traffic signals, and signage; send electricity to local households; and—someday—to power electric vehicles.
That’s still in the future, with the broader idea of making solar roadways part of an increasingly connected, digitized, and electrified world. In this world, autonomous electric vehicles communicate with other vehicles and with nearby infrastructure like parking structures, traffic lights, emergency services, and so on. Meanwhile, early deployments are relatively small test projects to learn more about the technology and to learn how it stands up to the punishing effects of everyday traffic and all-season weather. But solar costs continue to drop, and that means photovoltaic panels can be affordably integrated into everyday materials. For example, Tesla Motors recently unveiled roof shingles that double as solar panels. Photovoltaic snowmelt systems, contact-free wireless vehicle charging, and photo-luminescent paint are some additional examples being prototyped and tested for solar roadway use.
Reliability and consistent performance are key requirements if the promise of solar roads is to be achieved. Just as solar roads require reliable components to meet the demanding requirements of solar energy production, transportation vehicles require robust and secure connections. For example, Molex designed and developed the Mini50 Sealed Connectors to support efficient, reliable, and flexible transportation interconnections. The Mini50 family now offers a sealed 4- and 10-circuit option, delivering 25 percent space savings over traditional sealed 0.64mm connectors, with smaller terminals to fit more low-current electrical circuits in sealed transportation-vehicle environments.
Mouser is proud to be a distributor for Molex electronics solutions that are helping to make solar energy a reality. Learn more about Mouser’s commitment to innovation by visiting our Shaping Smarter Cities homepage.
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