China Will Soon Open an Enormous Solar Powered Highway
The tranformation of China's environmental policy over the past few years has been phenomenal. As one of the most polluted countries in the world, the nation has recently been investing ever growing amounts in clean, renewable energy sources, in an effort to reverse the damage caused by their manufacturing industry.
The latest addition to China's growing clean energy initiatives is a massive 2 kilometer (1.2 mile) stretch of highway in Shandong. The Jinan South Ring Expressway is a crucial circular road for the city of Jinan, where seven million people live and work. The city is home to a large automobile factory, creating a large demand for well-maintained roads that are capable of bearing a significant amount of traffic.
As revealed by China's official state media, the newly installed photovoltaic (which means "solar powered") road will be open for public use by the end of the month. While not all the details have been released with regards to how the road's electricity will be used, it has been stated that the road will provide power for electric cars that travel upon it, as well as being able to heat itself to remove ice and snow with ease.
The opening of the expressway will mark the first time that solar-powered technology has been used on a public road designed for heavy automobile traffic. Similar roads exist in the United States and across Europe, but they're only designed for pedestrian and bicycle use. While China's road won't be able to withstand particularly large heavy goods vehicles, it is expected to handle medium-sized trucks without any problems.
The creation of this road is a momentous event, which will likely have ramifications for the future of auto travel in general. With any luck, this technology will catch on, and more solar-powered highways will be installed around the world.
One of the biggest challenges hampering the adoption of electric cars is that many of them are limited by their battery capacity. Creating a capacitor that can hold an adequate charge which lasts over hundreds of miles is very expensive, and with many larger vehicles, it's not yet proven feasible to build a commercial truck that can handle more than a few hours of continuous use before needing to recharge.
If, though, a solar-powered road could deliver fuel to an electric car while it was traveling, a lot of these problems would evaporate. Cars would be able to run for a lot longer, with far smaller and less expensive batteries.
The only problem with this use for the technology is that there's only so much power to go around. If every car on these solar roads is trying to draw power from the system, then, particularly during rush hour, there might not be enough energy to go around.
During quieter times, though, this tech could be the best possible way to make electric cars efficient, cheap, and reliable. There's no downside - unless you're a particularly big fan of smog.