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.

  • Now that’s what I call walking on sunshine!

  • Great Work and ideas on sustainability from George Washington university. Kudos!

  • Solar walkable panel pavement is an interesting and inspiring new technology for sustainability industry,I just hope it does not have any serious drawback effect to the land and people that tread on it as a footpath…..

  • it would be interesting to know what the lifecycle of a footpath solar panel would be as well as the ERoEI … you’d think with thousands of square kilometres of roofs with no foot-traffic would make more sense … sounds like a corporate government deal (moving public funds to corporate entities) under the banner of ‘infrastructure’

  • How much does normal use affect efficiency? Presumably the more busy the side walk the less applicable/useful/efficient this tech becomes? Would be good to see doubled up with kenetic collection pavements too thinking about it.

    • Gareth makes some good points but it is still a wonderful evolution of the technology and I would imagine with a certain amount of planning could be used primarily where traffic is lighter in order to keep it most efficient and clean . Combining it with kinetic collection could be fun and useful..There is (was?) a stairway in Swedish subway which played music (each step played a different note when stepped on and the stair looked like a keyboard). People began using the stair far more often than the adjacent escalator thus saving energy.

      Conserving energy has long been known to be the cheapest way to create it. You can combine all these ideas and imagine public squares or promenades where the paving is producing power in the daylight and pedestrians can turn on the lights on a demand basis etc. by walking around or dancing. There are already nightclubs with kinetic dance floors which run light shows using this approach.

    • Sorry Doug, I should have been more clear, what I meant was kenetic energy harvesting

      Though thinking about it now, the two technologies are unique in application, one for busy areas the other for quiet unshaded areas.

      Though as you say, adding in switches so light is only used when it’s actually needed would be an excellent idea, it’s something so simple I don’t know why it isn’t more common, well I do, investment cheaper to leave the old stuff in and waste than invest and use less in the long term. It’s the General Electric identified poverty gap situation.

    • Gareth OK I understand you better now but the dance floor energy collection creation is not so far off those sidewalk tiles since it too depends on the impact of everyone’s feet to make the floor move and for the energy to be created. In a night club atmosphere the energy is related to the lights for effect but you can see where it could taken out of the club and into the street and combined with many things like motion and light sensors and so forth.

      The Swedish stair is different. The stair itself does not make energy but by encouraging usage it reduces the load on the escalator which then saves energy. The concept of fun is also important. As a landscape architect I imagine you could envision public squares and streets with all these technologies combined so that each and every trip through them would be unique to each traveller and thus become yet one more incentive to walk. Lets not forget the music either

  • would be nice if other sources of energy will contribute to it, what to do in dark areas/at night etc?

  • Nice innovation – the semi-translucency is important because otherwise those things would be blinding.