By Paula Hock, project architect, PreScouter
With technological developments over the last several decades, every facet of our lives is becoming smarter, safer and more user-friendly, and our roadways are certainly no exception. Fueled by developments coming from companies and research groups alike, the transportation and infrastructure industries are increasingly dynamic and paving the way to a smarter future. Solar technologies play a large role within the greater development structure, from energy generation to noise barriers.
This article covers several developments involving the use of solar energy currently being piloted and on the verge of commercialization. For additional smart road technology developments outside of solar, the full report on smart road technologies is freely available from PreScouter.
Roads that power
Perhaps the most common and useful characteristic for roadways around the world is the enormity of their surface area. If all roadways could generate electricity for even a fraction of the day, we would be well on our way to solving the evolving energy crisis. Colas, a French road materials and construction company, has partnered with the French National Institute for Solar Energy to create Wattway, which has set out to pilot just such a program.
Wattway’s panels are thin polycrystalline solar cells, and each module is composed of 28 active cells. Even after being embedded in resin, the cells are thin enough that they won’t peel off the road during normal expansion and contraction. The first pilot test was undertaken in a small town with a 1-km stretch of solar pavement. This one section produced enough power to light the village’s street lamps and cater to its 3,400 residents. In fact, 20 sq. m of these panels can supply the electricity requirements of a single home.
While exhibiting promising results, there are still challenges to overcome, like the high cost and low efficiency of the panels. Additional installations and pilot tests are ongoing.
Roads that charge
Electric vehicles (EVs) are taking the world by storm, even in spite of the major drawback of needing to regularly charge the batteries. This requirement places a finite distance limitation on electric vehicles, particularly with a slowly developing charging infrastructure. Beyond battery extending developments, how will EVs evolve in the future?
One company, Electreon, believes the answer lies in inductive coil-based charging. Its proprietary technology is called “dynamic wireless power transfer (DWPT),” and it enables energy exchange between all vehicles moving along the road. This technology combined with a renewable source (like solar panels) could provide a nearly endless power supply to various EVs. It is capable of both powering vehicles without a battery and charging a battery connected to the vehicle.
A major advantage of this technology is the high efficiency and safety: DWPT operates with more than 88% efficiency and has no safety concerns for surrounding wildlife or human users. The system began trial testing in March 2016 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Additional tests are upcoming, with a public transportation use-case and a commercial development installation.
Roads that Mute
The Ray, an ecosystem of smart road technologies developed by several partners in Atlanta, Georgia, is moving forward on a variety of developments, including tire safety stations, smart rest stops, solar roadways and more. The most uniquely novel technology, though not yet in testing, has already been envisioned: solar noise barriers.
Solar panels generally require a large amount of area for a small amount of energy harvest. So, in devising novel places to use solar panels, the minds behind the Ray seek to locate them on noise barriers on the sides and in the middle of roadways. The use of these structures would help reduce overhead costs associated with solar farms, particularly the acquisition of adequate land. They also are brimming with aesthetically pleasing potential.
Other potential uses for solar panels include outdoor vending machines and automated equipment (i.e., sprinklers), work bars for rest stops, road lighting and more.
Roads that honk
With safety a major concern across the global automotive industry, a road that could alert its users to potential dangers would be a major disruptor. HP Lubricants and Leo Burnett India have developed a system intended for use on sharp turns, hairpin bends and other potentially dangerous roadway environments.
The system utilizes SmartLife poles that wirelessly communicate with each other and exchange data about oncoming traffic. After measuring and analyzing the speed of vehicles heading into the turn, they alert drivers by sounding a horn. Powered by solar PV panels, the SmartLife poles can be installed even in extremely remote areas without consistent power supplies. In fact, the poles are being tested on NH1, the Jammu-Srinagar highway in India, which is quite hilly and widely known as one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
Solar is driving smart road development
The unique capabilities and specifications of solar energy generation and use have enabled cutting-edge technologies to fuel the future of smart roadways. The ability to power devices in remote areas, to help solve major challenges with electric vehicles, to provide energy to small villages — all of these are driving us toward a safer and more energy-stable future.
About the author:
Paula Hock is one of PreScouter’s Project Architects. She heads the Transportation segment, which encompasses automotive and aerospace and defense projects. Paula works with research teams to provide clients with cutting-edge, actionable information to improve their businesses. This can mean problem solving, process optimisation, entering new markets, assessing intellectual property and more. Paula earned her B.S. from DePaul University in Chicago before continuing on to her Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. She continues to utilize her chemistry background and penchant for researching new areas in a variety of engagements with PreScouter’s clients.