Imagine walking on a pavement or driving on a road in New Town, Rajarhat embedded with solar panels, which can generate electricity in a pollution-free manner to light up your house or a few street lights.
That may sound more like science fiction but the state government is actually scouting for such technology that can be adapted to Indian conditions.
“We are looking for technology which can cover our roads and footpaths with solar panels. This could give us abundant source of solar energy. But heavy vehicles such as trucks can crush the brittle glass on the solar panels. So, what we are looking for are very tough solar panels. A lot of research is going on around the globe in this field,” said Debasis Sen, state urban development secretary.
The Netherlands built the first motorcycle-path in 2014. France is planning to install 1,000 kms of solar roads, designed to supply power to five million people. A German company is also aiming to bring solar panels for the roads. A US firm is already testing the technology with government funds.
Sen was speaking at a workshop on Kolkata’s air quality organised by the US consulate in Kolkata in association with the Global Change Program of Jadavpur University.
“New Town, which is all set to become a smart and a solar city, is a crucial for such experiments. We can think of at least covering the pavements of New Town with solar panels. Apart from the building rooftops, there isn’t enough space in urban areas to install solar panels. But roads are one place which are open and get enough sunlight as they are not covered,” he added.
The solar panels used on the Dutch bike path are sandwiched between glass, silicon rubber and concrete, and are strong enough to support 12-tonne fire trucks without any damage.
Each individual panel connects to smart meters, which optimise their output and feed their electricity straight into street lighting, or the grid.
“We have already installed 500 KV solar panels on top of a canal which generates enough electricity to light up the entire Eco Park at New Town. Now, we are looking to do the same with the roads,” he added.
A few experts, however, differed claiming that it would require huge funds. Also dust and diesel exhaust could quickly cover a portion of each panel reducing the panels’ output.
“To bring such technology, we first need to have excellent roads which would have longevity of not less than 25 years. But our roads are not so good and get damaged after one monsoon. If solar panels are embedded in our roads they could run the risk of being damaged anytime as our roads are frequently dug,” said SP Gon Choudhury, a renowned renewable energy expert.