Solar Mobility
Solar Mobility
Case Study

Solar Mobility

Writer

Alex Turner

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mino21 @ stock.adobe.com

The transportation sector could end up being fundamentally altered by solar-powered cars, buses, trains, and roads, reducing the industry's reliance on fossil fuels.
The transportation sector could end up being fundamentally altered by solar-powered cars, buses, trains, and roads, reducing the industry's reliance on fossil fuels.

Solar energy is gaining more and more traction, and with recent advances in batteries, solar smart charging, and vehicle-integrated solar panels, it is becoming even more attainable. This study explores the concept of solar mobility and considers a range of emerging use cases and applications.

Solar Buses

Solar Buses can either be powered by batteries charged from a solar panel such as the Tindo buses, first introduced in 2013 in Adelaide, Australia, or powered from onboard solar panels. Solar panels have already been embedded in mobile devices and could adhere to heavy-duty vehicles as well. The solar panels could be installed on the roof of any vehicle, and during the day, the energy gathered would be sufficient to meet the energy requirements of that particular vehicle. The excess energy could be used to light up bus information boards at night or transfer the surplus to bus stops.

Solar Railways

Solar Railways are being considered in a number of locations, including Pakistan. A successful pilot project in the UK has seen the world's first-ever solar-powered railway. Track signals and lights are powered from a unit of around 100 solar panels which also supply energy to the track itself. Looking ahead, the University of Birmingham is considering how larger solar farms, or 'solar traction farms', may provide power to trains and railways in the future, creating a form of Decentralized Energy Grid.

Other notable projects include installing solar panels on railway sleepers, solar panel-clad trains being run by Indian Railways, and, a refurbished 70-year-old ‘red rattler’ —now a zero-emission solar train— is running on a 3 km stretch of Australia’s New South Wales coast.

Solar Roads

Both the US and China are researching and investing in solar-powered highways. Solar roads comprise plastic-like polymer-covered solar panels embedded in typically concrete roads to generate power, withstanding pressure from up to 45,000 cars and trucks every day. Electric heating strips could melt ice and snow, and embedded lights could flexibly alert drivers to construction, traffic hazards, exits, and parking availability.

In England, the Live Lab project will deploy solar generation infrastructure on roads and footpaths designed to generate and store energy and test plastic roads, which harness kinetic energy to power lighting and use geothermal power from paths to keep car parks and bus stations from freezing over.

The world’s first completed solar roadway was built in 2014 in the Netherlands, at Cromane, and is a 70 m solar-powered cycle path.

Future Perspectives

Solar panels could be used to reduce the intake of fossil fuels used by the vehicle's electrical system in nations lacking the necessary resources to shift their vehicles to solar energy propulsion. Technologies such as Solar Roof Tiles and CO2 Absorbing Streelight, for example, could be employed throughout roads and urban environments to increase energy efficiency and sustainability.

With modern technology, energy would likely be generated in excess and, therefore, able to be transferred to other vehicles, bus stations, and many other assets. Oversized tractor-trailers or trains could make dual use of their solar panels since they are somewhat cumbersome to transport: they could use the solar panels to power themselves as well as recharge any other partner along the transportation route (such as a maintenance bus-stop or a far-flung warehouse without reliable access to electric energy).

It is expected that public transportation networks would widely embrace this technology due to its self-sufficiency in delivering high standards of quality energy. However, there are still some constraints regarding its adoption. Solar panels are expensive; integrating them with just one bus would require more than ten solar panels to supply a sufficient amount of power. Solar roads are significantly more expensive than their asphalt counterparts. Even though the positive outcomes are numerous, cost is a significant barrier to overcome.

9 topics
Decentralization & Local Governance
Energy Efficiency
Green and Climate Finance
Green Economy
Investments
Natural Resources
Renewable Energy
Sustainable Mobility
Urbanization
3 SDGs
07 Affordable and Clean Energy
11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
09 Industry, innovation and infrastructure

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9 topics
  • Decentralization & Local Governance
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Green and Climate Finance
  • Green Economy
  • Investments
  • Natural Resources
  • Renewable Energy
  • Sustainable Mobility
  • Urbanization
3 SDGs
  • 07 Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 09 Industry, innovation and infrastructure