China’s ‘solar highway’ was victim of heavy traffic and bad design, not thieves, report says

‘Stolen’ panel was actually hiding in plain sight, in thousands of tiny pieces, investigation concludes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 6:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 1:36pm

A “solar highway” in eastern China that was reported to have been vandalised by thieves just days after opening was actually a victim of poor design, according to a local newspaper.

Following an investigation, police and industry experts concluded that the road in Jinan, Shandong province, was probably damaged by items falling or tossed from passing vehicles, Qilu Evening News reported on Monday.

An article published earlier this month by the same newspaper said that inspectors discovered a 1.8-metre-long solar panel missing from the road and several others broken. The damage was blamed on thieves, although the report did not carry a statement from the police.

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The 1km-long photovoltaic highway opened for testing on December 28 and the problem was spotted several days later.

After the claims of foul play, police investigators and specialist inspectors visited the site and conducted an inquiry.

Over the course of several weeks they deduced that the tiny fragments of glass they found littered around the damaged area were actually the remnants of the “stolen” panel. They also spotted multiple scratches on the road surface, which they attributed to pieces of broken glass being dragged along by passing vehicles, the report said.

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The investigators concluded that a heavy item might have fallen from a passing truck causing the initial damage, which was then exacerbated as more and more vehicles drove over it.

As the solar highway is on a downward slope, much of the debris was likely blown or dragged away, giving the impression that an entire panel had been deliberately removed, the report said.

The solar highway, which comprises photovoltaic panels covered with a thin layer of concrete – supposedly to protect them – forms part of Jinan’s ring road system.

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Xinhua reported earlier that the panels would be able to generate 1 million kilowatt-hours of power a year, or enough to meet the daily demand of about 800 households. The solar motorway is thought to be the longest in the world, after the first such road opened in a village in rural France in 2016.