March 29, 2017 - 6:30 PM
KAMLOOPS - The first solar road in Canada will be built this summer at the Thompson Rivers University campus in Kamloops.
The Solar Compass Project is due to be installed in June, a year later than expected as newer technology was made available after plans were made.
Dr. Michael Mehta, the professor leading the project, says this a chance for Kamloops to be on the front lines of a new technology and sustainable power.
“What we’re really doing is creating the foundation for future smart roads,” he says. "Universities should be about learning and innovation. If we can’t do it here, where else can you do it?"
Solar roads are cutting edge technology being developed so roads and streets can be covered in power generating solar modules. The modules use the same technology as solar panels, but can withstand the weight, chemicals and traffic while providing an alternative to traditional power systems.
Basically, they allow the public to drive on the power grid and power plant.
Embedding technology in roads is a fast growing field, Mehta says. Things like lights, heating, fiber optics and wi-fi internet could all be added to modules like those planned for the TRU project. That means power generated closer to homes, roads cleared of ice quickly and the information superhighway... on the highway.
The modules to be used at the university are being developed in Vancouver by a company called Solar Earth Technologies and are currently being tested. Because it’s brand new technology, there aren’t any government standards or regulations yet. Independent labs have to test the modules first to make sure they’re safe for installation.
Mehta sees paved roads as an untapped resource.
“Look at all that pavement just sitting there,” he says. Roads generating power means land used for power plants could have other uses.
"We look at how much of our communities are occupied by driveways and roads. Instead of using good farmland for solar farms, we should be using existing infrastructure.”
The Solar Compass Project will feature 64 modules in a compass design in front of the Arts and Education Building. While the area typically only sees foot traffic, Mehta says the modules will be able to withstand a firetruck stopped on top or any vehicles travelling through.
The modules will cover an area about 145 square feet in total and generate up to 13,000 watts of electricity, powering all the computers in the adjacent building. A residential project of the same size could power a house. They won’t be connected to batteries though, since that would significantly increase the cost, but will feed directly into to university’s power grid.
Similar projects are happening in France and Holland, where solar bike paths are being built and Mehta but hopes to see something similar built in Kamloops as the technology becomes cheaper and more common.
Since it’s a pilot project, he expects others interested in the technology for their own projects will visit Kamloops to see the system in a real world setting.
The project is partially funded by a grant from the university and donations from the company developing the modules.
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