China Tests its First Photovoltaic Highway

China successfully tested its first photovoltaic highway based on home-grown technology in Jinan city, the capital of Shandong province, in December 2017.

China has now become the second country to construct a photovoltaic highway. France introduced the world’s first photovoltaic road fitted with solar panels in late 2016.

Built by Qilu Transportation Development Group, the Jinan South Ring Expressway starts off in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, a tech and transportation hub that is home to nearly 7 million people. The expressway is a one-kilometre segment of solar-powered highway covering a surface area of 5,875 sq.m. It will be able to carry up to medium-sized trucks. This expressway, however, isn’t the city’s first solar road: a road had been built in the city as a test run earlier.

The stretch has three layers. At the bottom is an insulator to prevent moisture from getting to the photovoltaic panels in the middle layer. The panels absorb the sun’s rays while being protected from nature. They are built to transfer energy to electric vehicles passing on top of them. They have another advantage: their heat can get transferred through the concrete and melt the snow accumulated on the road.  The top layer is a thin sheet of transparent concrete to protect the surface. The transparent material, with a feel similar to asphalt, allows the sunlight to penetrate, aiding in the production of electricity.

The highway could revolutionise transport as it can support future wireless charging for electric vehicles.The segment that has been tested is expected to generate 817.2 KW of power and is expected to annually generate 1 million KW hours of electricity. The electricity generated will be used to power highway lights, signboards, surveillance cameras, tunnel, and toll gate facilities, whereas the surplus power will be supplied to the state grid. It is hoped that the panels can be used for other services including aiding wireless charging of vehicles, melting of snow on the surface and access to internet connection. It may also feature ports which will grant access to the information collecting devices.

Jinan is one of the most polluted cities in China, with poor air quality that has been linked to the city’s mortality rate.

China is very dependent on imported petroleum to sustain its economic growth. This, and the risk of pollution, have prompted the country to carry out projects that will replace conventional power sources with alternative energy sources and replace conventional vehicles with electric vehicles. China is reportedly the largest producer of solar energy. Though solar roads are still a rarity, they are part of China’s aggressive pursuit of solar in recent years that has included attempts to producesolar farms and parks.

Solar road projects have high cost and low output. Adding solar panels on roads has been problematic. The layered protection to the expressway in Jinan hopes to address this concern.

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