Solar-Harvesting Pavement Installed At George Washington University

Thanks to the increasing affordability of the solar panel, we often talk about the energy-generating potential of rooftops. Just imagine if every roof was a miniature power plant, turning sunlight into clean electricity? There’s no reason to stop at rooftops, however. With a growing ability to apply sun-harvesting technology to glass, paint, and other substances so that literally any surface can create clean energy.

George Washington University is testing this theory by installing what it’s calling the world’s first solar paneled pavement. Designed by Onyx Solar, the pavement panels will power 450 LED pathway lights beneath the panels themselves.

The 27 unique solar pavement panels form what the University calls the Solar Walk, between two of the university’s buildings, Innovation Hall and Exploration Hall.

The unique pavement panels are slip-resistant and semi-translucent, so that it’s almost impossible to tell that you’re “walking on sunshine.” While this walkway is surely just a small portion of the campus, it will help drastically reduce the school’s exterior lighting bill. It’s a proof of concept that could be expanded throughout all walkable portions of the University, reaping even bigger energy efficiency benefits.

“The Solar Walk is a great example of George Washington University’s commitment to sustainability and a reflection of the university’s forward thinking mentality,” said Eric Selbst, Senior Land Use Planner at GWU. “We are very excited about this project and proud to be a trailblazer in the development of new methods and sustainability.”

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

    • TregLoyden

      Shouldn’t this be installed at the sprawling Arizona State Univ ASU Campus? And how about that sidewalk filled campus down in Tucson, UofA?

    • jeffhre

      Right at this moment, I would think twice about investing in the big, safe, high dividend paying, protected monopoly, of any utility company. If and when future walkways are randomly paved with energy generating panels, the monopoly will then irreparably broken.

      When any random homeowner looking to put in a path, to take the trash from the side yard to the curb for example, can casually and unwittingly break the utility company’s 100 year old monopoly, it is time to face the facts. The utility companies will have to find something else in which to invest their aggregate capital.

      • JRT256

        Yes, it is no problem, just invest $30 or $40 Thousand in batteries and break the monopoly. Yes, it is easy to drink the Green Kool-Aide and forget that solar panels don’t provide any power at all 50% of the time and the other 50% of the time the output varies from 0% to 100% at noon and back to 0%. Also good to remember that even if you have enough solar PV capacity installed on your home that your NET electric usage is zero, or less, that you don’t have near the peak capacity that your home service is rated for. You probably don’t have enough to run your Air Conditioner even at solar noon without the grid. So, don’t think that you are off the grid. And, this is why it would take such a large investment in batteries to actually be off the grid..

        • jeffhre

          No one has to drink koolaid to see that merit order effects combine with rapidly falling renewable capex costs to destroy the traditional economic expectations of the most profitable daily time periods for fuel dependant generating stations. Using the current IOU logic, solar generation that includes batteries helps electricity generating utilities to maintain the grid. This Unfortunately is a prelude to an end game that barring compensation for distribution facilities leads to lower levels of income and insolvency.

          • JRT256

            I fail to understand your point. Perhaps you should consider the example of the Air Conditioner in more detail. With the size of most A/C and most PV systems, even at solar noon, or later in the day with a system aimed a bit West), the W-h meter will run forward when the A/C is on and then run backward when it is off. This means that the owner of the DG PV system is dependent on the grid all day in the summer, or most of the time if using a heat pump. Most people do not consider this fact.

            Public utilities, although not independent producers of power, are guaranteed a return on their investment — a profit. The only question is how long it will be until the net metering experiment is over and pricing for owners of DG PV system will reflect costs. The first such rate case is already before the ACC in Arizona.

            It is true that the changing power mix will create issues that will have to be sorted out regarding independent power producers that the free market may not be able to resolve. But that has always been true of utilities.

            I also note that peak hour generation is profitable for independent owners of peaker turbine generators while they are running but they sit idle most of the time. It is not profitable for a IOU because they sell the power for less than it costs them to produce it. Since the units themselves are inexpensive compared to baseload plants, they would probably prefer not to run them since the fuel costs are high and they still earn a return on their investment in the hardware.

            • jeffhre

              “I fail to understand your point.”

              An understanding that appears to be dependent on point of view.
              The monopoly is already broken with PV users running the meter backwards and using the grid as free storage.

              “The only question is how long it will be until the net metering experiment is over and pricing for owners of DG PV system will reflect costs.”


              Americans seem to like seeing people get paid “fairly” for what they provide. Americans don’t seem to be so fond of monopolies.

              WRT “pricing for owners of DG PV system(s)” net metering proponents have contended that transmission costs for small users/PV system owners is between 5 to 10 dollars a month. Currently the IOU’s would rather try to kill net metering than get the 5-10 dollars a month. Why is that?

            • JRT256

              Because they have accountants and they know how much the local grid cost them to install and how much it costs to maintain it. They also have this strange idea that they should bill this cost as per kw-h transmitted over the grid — by use of the grid — not just so much for the grid just sitting there. That is, after all, how people that are buying electricity from them are paying for the grid. Now if they want to charge all residential customers 5-10 Dollars a month for use of the grid, that would be a different matter altogether..

            • jeffhre

              Yes I believe what you have said there is correct. At least after 130 years of doing business mainly in the environment of a slowly changing regulated monopoly, I certainly believe they should know quite a bit about the financials of their business.

              However is their anything you could comment on for folks who are invincibly ignorant, about the potential for viable business models for IOU’s that has not clearly and commonly been known for the past 100 years?

            • JRT256

              If their pricing doesn’t reflect their costs, I don’t see how it can work out in the long run. And, I don’t see how we can do without them without incurring very large expenses.

            • jeffhre

              Exactly. And they will need a business model that allows them to continue to be viable enterprises.

            • JRT256

              Agreed then. So, we leave it to the regulator and their accountants to figure it out.

            • jeffhre

              “Perhaps you should consider the example of the Air Conditioner in more detail.”

              It is about net margins from operations – not the average size of a residential HVAC unit.

            • JRT256

              Is it that you are invincibly ignorant — that you really don’t understand?

              The point is that they are using the grid and using it considerably more than most people think that they are. In my example, they are using the grid to buy some power every time that their A/C compressor kicks on and paying nothing for the service.

              Why should the cost of the ROI, depreciation, and maintenance of the local grid be apportioned only among those that don’t have solar?

    • peter lang

      if you look up the solar rectenna generating method called ALD it is very interesting!

    • Robert Grothe

      Well let’s not forget the hard work of Scott Brusaw and his Solar Roadway project. He’s been working hard on this concept for over a decade using several US grants and has it almost perfected with his patented non-breaking-glass solar modules. I’m sure not one wants to take his hard work away from him.