The Malahat First Nation in British Columbia is testing solar panels embedded in pavement as a source of electricity to power its administrative building.
The C$200,000 pilot project, a partnership between the Malahat Nation and Vancouver-based Shift Clean Energy and Solar Earth Technologies, is part of the community’s effort to build energy self-sufficiency, the Victoria Times-Colonist reports.
For Shift, a company that mostly focuses on the marine transport system, the project is a first attempt to embed a solar+storage system in sidewalks, roadways, parking lots, and other paved surfaces. “Once the installation is complete, the Malahat Nation’s administration building is expected to be capable of running off-grid at nearly full capacity,” the Times-Colonist writes.
“This is actually multiple pilot projects rolled into one,” Tristan Gale, the Nation’s executive director of environment and sustainable development, told the local paper.
“Using Shift’s batteries on land is a pilot, using Solar Earth’s technology in this specific climate, in this specific situation, is a pilot,” he explained. “And then tying that all together with microgrid functionality so that it’s as automated as possible when we lose grid power is its own pilot project. So, it’s definitely a first in a couple of specific categories.”
The project is funded by B.C.’s Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative.
“We are basically showing how we can convert typical concrete hardscape and put the solar panel on top of it—you can basically drive on top of it, it can take a beating,” said Colin Doylend, vice-president of business development at Solar Earth. “That means you can monetize a hardscape that was typically a sunk cost to a municipality or a developer.”
Beyond the local benefits if the project delivers as planned, the Malahat Nation will be succeeding where other attempts appear to have bogged down.
In 2016 and 2017, Sandpoint, Idaho-based Solar Roadways was proposing to install panels along the iconic Highway 66 in Missouri and touting big plans for a first manufacturing facility in Dayton, Ohio. Their irreverent promo video for “Solar Freakin’ Roadways” was a big hit at at least one highway infrastructure conference in the mid-2010s.
But “the promise seemed too good to be true. And as it turns out, it was,” Interesting Engineering reported in 2021. The company raised nearly US$2.5 million in start-up capital in 2021 and its website is active, but the site still leads off with the 2014 video.
In 2016, France unveiled plans to cover 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) of roads in solar panels by 2020, following a five-year research effort by road construction company Colas and the French National Institute of Solar Energy. The Wattway Solar Road won an innovation award in 2019, Colas patented the system, and the company is still actively promoting its product. But one 2019 news report declared it a “colossal failure” that “has deteriorated to a terrible state”, was producing far less power than it was supposed to, and was noisier than expected.