Solar panels already appear on buildings, street signs and even buses. The sidewalk may be one place you would never expect to find them. However, two companies in Spain are working to change that. Solar sidewalks could eventually become a common sight in major cities.
These sidewalks consist of photovoltaic panels embedded in other durable materials. Spanish tile manufacturer Butech and solar panel maker Onyx have developed paving tiles made of glass and ceramic. A possible alternative is to embed thin-film panels in the sidewalk.
Questions remain about the durability of these tiles. The Butech/Onyx paving tiles use very strong glass to protect the photovoltaics. This glass can support the weight of humans and furniture, according to Inspiration Green. Their ability to survive a wintry climate remains unclear.
These sidewalks will benefit the environment by decreasing the amount of energy that power plants must generate by burning coal, oil and natural gas. This limits air pollution and curtails the environmental damage caused by fossil fuel extraction.
Such walkways will also help the environment by reducing the need for petroleum-based sidewalk materials. The manufacturing process for Butech/Onyx paving tiles will cause less harm to the environment than pavement production, according to Inhabit.com.
An additional advantage of photovoltaic sidewalks is that they can generate power near homes and businesses that use electricity. When transmitting power across many miles, transmission lines lose a portion of the energy. Such sidewalks would help to counteract this problem.
As of early 2012, no sidewalks of this type have been installed. They are still not available for purchase in the United States. A few years ago, IBM predicted that photovoltaic sidewalks would become affordable by late 2013. For now, the future of this technology remains uncertain.
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