Most countries in Europe have pledged to make a sustainability goal of an energy-neutral environment by mid-centruy. And while there’s no doubt that solar rooftops will play a key role in achieving that goal, a number of projects in Europe are proving that pavements and building facades too can contribute significantly.
In fact, this electric revolution for buildings has already started. As part of a number of sustainable urban planning projects, architects in Italy and the Netherlands are currently turning pavements and building facades into smart energy-harvesting surfaces equipped with innovative technologies, including photovoltaic (PV) windows, special plants, panels of colored glass, and ventilated windows.
The PV windows, which are currently tested in a utility building in Austria, feature stripes that convert sunlight into electricity. These are mainly suitable for spaces that don’t need completely transparent windows.
The special paints are designed to absorb sunlight (40-98% depending on the color). Panels on the building surface painted with it can be attached to heat pumps that absorb the heat and generate hot water or heat for a building. Such a system is currently being tested at a Dutch school.
The panels of colored glass, which are used to clad surfaces, are equipped with built-in heat harvesting technologies and are now undergoing pilot tests as well. These are currently undergoing pilot tests at a building in Genoa, together with new window technology featuring channels inside the glass where air moves through to remove heat. These ventilated windows are designed to keep the interior cool and even the exterior of the building since they absorb heat and prevent the warming of the urban environment.
A different team at the University of Bologna focuses on a different kind of usable human-made surfaces — pavements. One of the main projects working on this is called SaferUp and investigates how to improve the roads people drive and cycle on and the pavements they walk on.
One of the main initiatives standing out in the SaferUp project involves embedding roads with electromechanical devices to turn mechanical energy into electricity when squished by traffic. The technology can generate enough electricity from a one-kilometer stretch of road under normal traffic conditions to light up about 2,000 street lamps. The researchers plan to test this in 2021.
Given the urgency of finding better and more sustainable ways to power our energy-hungry built environment, it’s with great excitement that we see cities in Europe taking up such innovative approaches. Hopefully, the technology bears fruit soon to scale up to other parts of the world as well.