The Solar Walk pathway shown under construction.
Courtesy of Jessica McConnell Burt/The George Washington University The Solar Walk pathway shown under construction.

A compelling renewable energy trend is the increased integration of photovoltaic devices with the designed environment. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) are a common example of this—but how about landscape-integrated photovoltaics (LIPVs)? Like their building counterparts, LIPVs have the potential to demonstrate design and economic benefits of fusing multiple functions in a single assembly. In addition, they encourage more creative thinking about renewable energy in the landscape—as opposed to the common installations of wind turbines or solar panels in uninhabited fields.

George Washington University demonstrated an interest in LIPVs two months ago with the installation of  Solar Walk, a 100-square-foot solar-powered walkway. Located on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, the new surface is comprised of 27 translucent glass panels with an anti-slip finish. The panels' integrated PVs harvest up to a total of 400 watts of energy, a sufficient amount to illuminate the 450 LEDs located under the panels for enhanced night vision. The panels were produced by Spain-based Onyx Solar, which manufactures a variety of PV products for integrated applications.
Although the Solar Walk represents an initial vision for the design and construction of solar sidewalks, it is a wonder why the George Washington campus planners located the installation on the side of the pedestrian path, rather than within the path itself. Perhaps the design team was concerned about potential damage from heavy traffic. Nevertheless, the future promises many more iterations of LIPVs, including hybrid surfaces that derive energy from sunlight as well as pedestrian or automobile movement.
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.