Will these solar sidewalk panels open new frontiers in solar energy?

Will these solar sidewalk panels open new frontiers in solar energy?

By Sercan Gul

As the cost of solar panels continues to decline, people and companies who want to make use of this renewable resource face a new challenge, especially in cities. In crowded areas, they have limited spaces to mount panels.

Fortunately, a startup in Hungary developed a product based on installing solar panels in sidewalks and providing clean energy to nearby buildings and electric vehicles. The concept of solar sidewalks is not itself new, but the materials used by the company, Platio, are. Their process involves making the solar panels from recycled plastic.

When asked about the inspiration behind such an innovation, Miklós Ilyés, a landscape architect and one of the cofounders of Platio told PreScouter:

“The inspiration came when we realized that, however cities are the biggest energy consumers, responsible for 75 percent of the world’s energy consumption, it is very problematic to apply renewables in cities. We perceived that sidewalks and public  squares are absorbing solar radiation all day long and for this reason, they are suitable for energy production”.

Protecting against damage, theft and falls:

The recycled plastic “shells” enclose each solar cell, providing a modular system that can grow over time and help to protect each cell. The shells require no maintenance and thus provide long lasting protection. The plastic complements the surface protection of each panel, which is designed to resist breakage and vandalism.

Platio’s PV-packed paving tile houses all the necessary wiring and cabling for a quick install. (Image courtesy of Platio)

Platio states that the compressive strength of the material of these solar panels is 1000 N/m2. This means a load of 10 tons is required to damage them, which is also equal to 100 people each weighing 100 kg jumping at the same time on a single solar panel, a very unlikely scenarioIn surfaces where the Platio Solar Paver (the name of these solar panels) is extremely exposed to scratching conditions, Ilyés explains that,

“The efficient operation is expected to be 10 years, but under less extreme circumstances, it is 25+ years.”

To protect against theft, the company mounts these panels in between pavements using special tools. To steal them, burglars would also need to have these special tools, as well as sufficient time to rip each one up from between pavement blocks. For slip resistance, Platio offers different types of surface patterns that can be manufactured according to the customer’s request. The panels require limited ongoing maintenance, mainly cleaning them if they acquire dirt that limits the amount of sunshine falling on them, or removing objects resting on the panels that block sunlight.

In previous application, Platio installed up to a 720 watt peak capacity system. The modular nature allows them to install even larger systems as needed. The panels can also include other features, such as battery storage, charging ports for electronics, supplementary lighting, analytics and heating.

Visitors to a pop-up park in Budapest, Hungary, can now charge their smart devices with energy supplied by Platio solar panels. (Image courtesy of Platio)

Overcoming cost barriers:

The main disadvantage of Platio at the moment centers on cost. The company has not disclosed prices for various installations, but the panels presumably cost the same as a traditional solar panel, plus some additional upfront cost for extra features and the plastic shell and resistant cover. As the cost of panels continues to decline, the cost of Platio should also decrease. Additionally, as Platio installs larger surface areas, it may also be able to realize less expensive installations. For now, however, Platio already has experience installing its panels in a variety of locations in Europe, even leveraging the waterproof nature of the panels to test installations in marina docks.

What’s next?

Platio certainly has plans to make their solar panels a viable option in any city, regardless of weather conditions. They currently have a demo snow and ice melting version of the Platio Solar Paver.  They are also very interested in the rapidly growing trend of electric vehicles, especially in wireless charging of these vehicles via these solar panels.

In addition to installing solar panels on sidewalks and street furniture, the company is hoping to target the residential sector with more sustainable innovations. Ilyés said,

“We aim to make our product available for households roughly in the price of a regular, good quality roof-mounted system with the same productivity. It is a question of a manufacturing scale-up.”

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at solutions@prescouter.com.

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