A decorative compass that students and others at Thompson Rivers University walk over to enter the campus' Arts and Education Building will soon start generating solar energy as a "solar roadway."

An example of what the walkway surface will look like

Michael Mehta holds up one of the solar modules that will go into the compass. (Tara Copeland/CBC)

This summer, the dark concrete arms of the compass are going to be replaced by pieces of solar power generating material (a photovoltaic layer) encased in thick glass that is also salt-and-slip resistant.

"Solar panels are mounted usually on rooftops, so they're not very visible. This is actually an embedded solar technology," said Michael Mehta, a geography and environmental studies professor at TRU.

Will generate about 10,000 kWh a year

"People will be able to walk on it, vehicles will be able to drive on it and it will — in the same way as these other rooftops systems — capture the energy from the sun and produce electricity to operate the Arts and Education building."

Vancouver company Solar Earth Technologies is donating the solar modules for the pilot Solar Compass project, which is led by Mehta and a group of faculty, staff, students and others in the community of Kamloops.

"It's expected to produce about 10,000 kilowatt-hours a year of power, which we estimate is the equivalent of running all the computer labs in the building, about 40 computers, for eight hours a day on an annual basis."

'A revolution'

Mehta said he hopes the project will inspire others to make use of the technology, which is already being used in other places around the world. He said the Netherlands already has a 70-metre bicycle path made from solar panels, and France is planning to build long stretches of "solar roads".

Dr. Michael Mehta of TRU’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

Michael Mehta of TRU’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies standing by the compass walkway, where the solar modules will be installed. (Tara Copeland/CBC)

"This is the start of a revolution," said Mehta, who said if successful it could potentially lead to solar roads around campus, and even in the city of Kamloops itself.

"The value of this technology is that it doesn't use any batteries or any storage of the power. It puts the power immediately into the grid … and it offsets the amount of power we have to generate elsewhere.

"We see it as a lynchpin for a wider understanding of how to make the world livable and still have a good quality of life at the same time."

VIDEO: TRU's solar compass project

The team will receive $36,000 from the TRU Sustainability Grant Fund for the pilot project to go ahead.

A team of three business students at the school — Eric Little, Chase Barber and Tavis Knox  — also recently received a grant for a similar project.

They received $25,000 for proposing that specific street lights on campus be outfitted with solar panel technology.

With files from CBC's Daybreak Kamloops


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Thompson Rivers University puts energy into solar powered walkway