Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is one of the fastest growing areas of the solar power industry. The integration of photovoltaics in roofing, building envelope or canopy systems adds solar generated power to building performance.

Now George Washington University (GW) and Onyx Solar have teamed up to use the technology in a unique way and installed what they claim is the first ever walkable, solar paneled pavement in the world.

The 100-square-foot area of pavement converts solar radiation into electricity via the use of semiconductors. The pavement includes 27 slip-resistant, semi-translucent panels that create a combined average of 400Wp, or enough energy to power 450 LED pathway lights below the panels.

Walkable solar pannel

“The Solar Walk is a great example of GW’s commitment to sustainability and a reflection of the university’s forward-thinking mentality,” said Eric Selbst, senior land use planner. “With an ever-increasing need for alternative energy solutions, it is critical to foster new trends such as this in building sustainable technologies. We are very excited about this project and proud to be a trailblazer in the development of new methods in sustainability.”

The walkable panels were installed on the university’s “Solar Walk” located between Innovation Hall and Exploration Hall at GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. The Solar Walk – designed by Studio39 Landscape Architecture, P.C. and constructed by Hubert Construction LLC – is yet another sustainable feature on GW’s Virginia Campus, which already features a trellis with solar panels that provides energy to Innovation Hall.

“The installation of this retro illuminated sidewalk underscores the successful completion of a new solar solution resulting from exhaustive research and development activity that opens up new sustainable urban design options,” said Jose Maria Jimenez, project manager at Onyx Solar.

Onyx has already completed some of the most innovative solar installations in the United States, such as the largest photovoltaic integrated skylight in the country at Novartis Pharmaceutical’s headquarters in East Hanover, New Jersey, a building designed by renowned architect Rafael Viñoly.

Onyx Solar developed an architectural turnkey solution that consisted of the integration of a 26,447-square-foot double PV skylight and a 295-kilowatt-DC base rated power photovoltaic system. It is built from 820 completely customized translucent units to produce clean and free electricity by harnessing the Sun’s energy.

Photovoltaic skylights stand out among architectural solutions due to their multifunctional properties. In addition to power generation, this solution allows for the entry of natural light, provides both thermal and sound insulation and features an innovative and aesthetic design for the avant-garde building.

Onyx is continuing its investment in R&D to find other ways to use BIPV and create a more sustainable and competitive building model with a high aesthetic value.

For example, the Holistic Energy-Efficient Retrofitting of Residential Buidlings (HERB) Project led by The University of Nottingham, in partnership with Onyx Solar, is developing BIPV solar solutions focused on retrofitting.  The goal is to implement active and passive energy efficient properties in existing residential buildings across Europe.

Meanwhile, research on new materials and techniques on a nanometric scale has led to the development of third-generation PV technologies whose properties are especially interesting for the BIPV market, including dye sensitized solar cells.