Learn About Solar Roadways That Generate Solar Power

The world is changing constantly. We are an innovative species, seeking to improve our quality of life with new technologies and scientific discoveries. At the same time, we need to find solutions for new problems. One of the most important is climate change. Global warming caused by the greenhouse effect is conditioning the temperatures, melting glaciers and threatening the ecosystem. It is increasingly urgent that we find solutions for a sustainable future. This is where renewables come into the picture.

One challenge that they face is that they take up a lot of space. So why not integrate renewables into structures we already use anyway? Carport roofs, rooftops of houses, even the Eiffel Tower in Paris now has wind turbines installed in it.

Especially solar is becoming more an more adaptable to different surfaces. Imagine life on Planet Earth in the future? What will our society look like in the year 2115? Perhaps then all of our roadways will generate solar power: Solar highways, solar parking lots, solar cities… Is this a feasible, realistic option? Or a pipe-dream?

Can solar roadways be the solution?

Much has changed about driving cars in the last decades, including GPS systems and mobile device that shouldn’t distract you. We even heard about cars that drive by themselves and cars that work with solar energy. But how could a roadway become a generator of renewable energy?

Asphalt roadways are energetically useless. From a climate change perspective, they are even counterproductive: because they are dark grey, they absorb sunlight and warm up. Can that same property be turned into an advantage? Can they become solar roadways? Yes, an American couple thought. What if the pavements were able to generate power from the sunlight that falls on it every day? With this idea in mind, they both started to give form to a project.

Scott and Julie Brusaw, the husband-and-wife team behind Solar Roadways, live in northern Idaho, not in Silicon Valley. Although they have no venture capital funding, they’ve been thinking for more than a decade about the possibility of turning roads into a productive part of the world’s energy infrastructure. The idea is simple and compelling.

Imagine a roadway that generates enough power to supply a city and that has LED lights built in so that it can delineate emergency signs warning of a crash around the bend. If it snows, there you don’t need to call for the snowplow: the roads have an integrated heating element that melts the snow and ice, leaving the road clear. Fantastic, isn’t it? It almost seems to be a project coming from the future.

Scott Brusaw estimates that over time, solar roads will even be cheaper than our current asphalt roads, which require the use of technologies to paint signal lines, to remove snow and to fix holes that arise in the asphalt. None of this would be necessary if we invested in solar roadways, he says.

Others do the maths differently: they say it will cost a fortune to build solar roads. But will we not need to build new power infrastructure anyway? While that is true, there is a technical challenge relating to power evacuation. Laying cabling and inverters along a road will make the solar plant significantly more expensive than it would be in a normal solar park. Another objection is that road surfaces are today optimised for grip (safety), resistance (energy efficiency) and durability – in addition to cost. Will solar roadways be able to fulfil the same criteria? And will they be able to do so without significantly diminishing the conversion efficiency of the cells? It’s a long shot – but, hey, we are making constant progress. Let’s see how they might work.

How do solar roads work?

The solar roads design, as suggested by Scott and Julie Brusaw, are based on a hexagonal array of modules with photovoltaic cells. The modules include a heating system and LED lights, covered in ruggedised glass. See this video to understand more about solar roadways.

Lately, this startup project has attracted an huge amount of attention on the internet. Besides the crowdfunding campaign on the site Indiegogo that has already pulled in more than 2 million dollars, the Solar Roadways company has published videos that have been viewed more than 16 million times.

In the coming months, Solar Roadways intend to use this money to employ more engineers, rent an office, dig deeper on design and start manufacturing modules. Brusaw has already spoken with the mayor and public works director of Sandpoint, Idaho and they are all willing to make of Sandpoint the first solar road city in the world.

Testing the idea is a great start. Solar roadways need to prove themselves: How much will they cost? How much power can they generate? Will they be durable and safe? How will they be kept clean? Let’s see, if we will really drive our self-steering, electric vehicles on solar roads in the future.

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Gayrajan Kohli
Gayrajan Kohli
Gayrajan is a staunch solar promoter, serial entrepreneur & management consultant. He has a decade of experience in solar PV, disruptive technologies and political consultancy in USA and India. He believes that development of solar and other renewable technologies is critical to India's energy security. Gayrajan holds a Masters and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from USA. Follow him on Twitter to gain daily industry insights.
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