Tokyo at night

Tokyo to adopt solar roads and energy-collecting floors for 2020 Olympics

Image credit: Dreamstime

The Japanese capital is set to introduce roads paved with solar panels and floors which generate electricity from footsteps in time for the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

‘Solar roads’ are intended to use the surface area already utilised for roads to collect solar energy, making them ideal for packed urban areas. The first full solar road was opened in a village in Normandy in December 2016: the 1km road was capable of generating enough electricity to power the street lights and cost approximately £4m. A year later, a similar 1km solar road opened in Jinan, in China’s Shandong province. Smaller solar roads have been introduced elsewhere in Europe.

Solar roads are painted with transparent resin for durability, meaning that heavy loads can traverse them without doing any damage.

Despite being celebrated as a clever use of space, these solar roads have been criticised for being far less efficient than angled solar panels and for the enormous expense of installing panels in roads. The cost of solar roads could fall if demand for the technology grows, such that the components could be mass produced.

Solar roads have already made their debut in Japan, with a small solar road installed in the car park of a 7-Eleven shop in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, which can generate approximately 9 per cent of the shop’s electricity consumption.

The rollout of solar roads across the city in time for the 2020 Olympic Games would be a far more ambitious project, but if successful could boost Tokyo’s reputation as an eco- and tech-friendly city. Tokyo’s local government is aiming to source 30 per cent of Tokyo’s power consumption from renewable sources by 2030, more than doubling the 12 per cent sourced from renewables in 2016. Solar technologies are set to be a major part of this effort.

The government is in the process of deciding which public facilities on which to trial solar roads during the next fiscal year. It has suggested that the solar roads could go anywhere, including in car parks and other facilities.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has also suggested that the introduction of “power-generating floors” could help contribute to its reliance on non-renewable energy sources. These floors use the mechanical energy of steps to generate electricity; they are made from a special ceramic which generates a small potential difference when pressure is applied.

According to Soundpower, the company behind the technology, a 60kg person walking at a moderate pace could generate a current of 2mW, enough to power a small LED display. This could allow for paths to be illuminated for safety at night using energy collected from footsteps. Power-generating floors are expected to be first introduced to hospitals and other public facilities.

Tokyo is aiming to make the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games a showcase for new technology, with driverless vehicles playing a major role in transporting punters around the city and with the possibility of a basic flying car being used to light the Olympic flame.

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