Sidewalks aren’t usually thought of as revolutionary but the latest sidewalk at George Washington University’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus is. At 100 square feet it isn’t the longest sidewalk in history, but it’s certainly one of the most exotic. It’s the world’s first sidewalk made of photovoltaic (PV) panels.
“This project has proven to be an exciting example of the new innovation being designed and integrated into our university,” said GW Construction Project Manager Nancy Balph.
The walkway is part of the campus’ Solar Walk project. The university describes the project as: “A landscaped pedestrian sidewalk that demonstrates solar technologies.” In addition to the walkable PV panels, which were made by Onyx Solar, the Solar Walk also consists of trellised structure with PV panels and a bench. Both features are designed to show the various applications for solar.
“We are excited to explore the potential of this newly patented product and participate with Onyx in its goal of furthering unique photovoltaic technologies,” said GW Senior Land Use Planner Eric Selbst
The sidewalk is a truly unique application of building-integrated PV (BIPV). “The landscaped pedestrian sidewalk boasts a solar-powered trellis and 27 slip-resistant semi-transparent walkable panels with photovoltaic technology that converts sunlight into electricity,” the university said. The panels, which use amorphous silicon-based photovoltaics to produce electricity, are designed to withstand 400 kilograms (about 882 pounds) in point load tests and they are covered with a non-slip glass surface, according to Onyx Solar.
“The solar sidewalk is a great example of GW’s commitment to innovation in design and sustainability and will be a reference for others to follow,” said Onyx Solar Vice President of Business Development Diego Cuevas.
The solar sidewalk can produce 400 watts at peak capacity, enough solar energy to power the 450 LED lights under the panels, which are raised on supports. By raising the modules off the ground, it helps ensure they’re less likely to face issues like standing water after rains.
The PV-powered trellis along the Solar Walk was completed in 2012 and was designed by Studio39 Landscape Architecture. The solar electricity generated by the PV array on the trellis is fed to GWU’s Innovation Hall. The architecture firm said it was the first trellis in a new master plan at the campus that would reduce the amount energy that the campus consumes from the grid.
While this is the first sidewalk designed with PV modules, it’s not the first time people have contemplated installing solar on surfaces that are used regularly. In fact some have proposed installing PV modules as road tops, however that hasn’t happened yet.