You might think that solar-powered roads are an idea still some way off becoming reality, but this is not the case, as China’s first solar-powered road has now opened.

The new road opened to traffic in Jinan, Shangdong Province, at the end of December, the project’s chief engineer has said, with a section of the road currently paved with solar panels.

Once the project is fully completed, energy from the sun will be used to generate electricity that will be put straight into the grid. Once at full capacity, the peak power generated will be 817.2 kilowatts.

The project has been funded by a transportation development group that also runs several charging areas for electric cars in the city.

The 1,120-metre section of road is also set to pave the way for further technologies, too.

Professor Zhang Hongchao told the China Daily: ‘In addition to generating solar power, the new road will be open to third-party services such as wireless charging for electric cars and autonomous car guidance.”

The space for wireless car charging has reportedly already been set aside, with joint work with US company Qualcomm aiming to bring sections of wireless charging to the road within two to three years.

Prof Zhang, who lectures at Tongji University’s College of Transportation Engineering, has fronted a team looking into cost-effective ways to reduce an electric current on roads for the past eight years.

The materials used are said to meet national standards, and can withstand all types of vehicles. The surface is also just as economical to use as cement and asphalt, for example. Each square metre of road can earn the equivalent of £11 a year from generating electricity.

While the project is a breakthrough in solar-power technology being used on roads, it isn’t actually the first project. A road in the Netherlands opened for bicycles and pedestrians in 2014, while the first 1000m solar road for cars was built in Normandy in 2016.

Ted Welford


January 26, 2018