Canadian Solar Road Panel Design: A Structural and Environmental Analysis
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Solar road panels are a technology that have the ability to revolutionize the way that roads are built and how electricity is generated. Strong incentives towards sustainable solutions in both of these fields have led to the design of innovative, multifaceted solutions, of which solar road panels are one of the most recent entrants. This research presents some initial analysis into the design of solar road panels from the perspective of Canadian pavement engineering. The hypothesis of this research was as follows: A specially designed modular panel can be constructed to withstand the structural and environmental loads on Canadian pavement structures while simultaneously generating electricity through embedded photovoltaic cells. Through a process that covers the design, construction, and analysis of the structural elements of a solar road panel prototype, this research evaluated the impact that solar road panels can have for Canada’s pavement infrastructure. Specific elements researched include the material selection for such a panel, the flexural response of the composite structure, how the panel will interact with traditional pavement and geotechnical materials while in use, and the change in performance of transparent layer materials as they are subjected to freeze-thaw cycling and scaling. The research found that the initial prototype design included a two 10-mm tempered glass pane transparent layers with a 12.7-mm GPO-3 optical layer and 19.1-mm GPO-3 base layer. The concept being that the glass would provide the rigidity required to protect the fragile solar cells while the fiberglass laminate has demonstrated performance as a traffic-supporting material in adverse conditions. Testing of this structure found that the performance was easily duplicated through finite element analysis, given that the material properties were assumed to be more rigid than the averages for tempered glass and GPO-3. Further finite element analysis demonstrated that the prototype solar road panel would not fail through traditional fatiguing methods, and in all cases on concrete, asphalt, granular, and subgrade bases the panels improved the performance characteristics of the structural base. The environmental conditioning of acrylic, glass, and polycarbonate specimens demonstrated that glass is the ideal material choice for the transparent layer for Canadian solar road panels. It proved to have the greatest freeze-thaw and scaling resistance of the three materials, and while the friction characteristic of the flat glass samples would not be suitable for driving on, avenues of research were identified that could improve this characteristic. In summary, the research conducted clearly proved the hypothesis; it is possible to build a structure that can house a photovoltaic system while supporting the structural and environmental loads that Canadian pavement are exposed to. The ideal panel would be constructed with a tempered glass transparent layer, GPO-3 optical and base layers, and the structure would be installed on a concrete structural base. The refinement of this design will be the scope for future research.