Weekly Planet: A new kind of pavement when solar cells hit the road
Julie and Scott Brusaw of Solar Roadways display a prototype section of road covered with solar panels. They have a plan to use America’s highways to capture and convert sun power.
As we figure out how to live with our warming planet, I’ve been thinking about the ways technology figures into the equation. Some say technology will solve all our problems, meaning that we will be able to just continue our all-consuming ways. Others believe we should go back to the days of the horse-drawn wagon.
The answer is more likely somewhere in the middle. We must certainly rethink how we live and consume. At the same time, technology will bring about some necessary and innovative changes.
My work is bringing solar power to homes and businesses. Every day I receive lots of emails regarding the solar industry, and many of them concern new technologies that are being developed.
One recent innovation, solar roadways, has gone viral. Engineering couple Julie and Scott Brusaw came up with the idea in 2006 when they thought about making something new of current technologies. They replied to a solicitation from the U.S. Department of Transportation to come up with an intelligent pavement that would generate power and pay for itself.
Their concept is to use road material that houses solar cells. Because the solar cells collect energy, the road will, over time, pay for itself. But their concept goes further, adding LED lights to “paint” the road lines from beneath and even light it up for safer nighttime driving.
Even heating elements can be added to prevent snow and ice from accumulating in the winter.
The ideas and possibilities just continued to roll in, and the solar roadway project was born.
In 2009 the Brusaws received a contract from the Federal Highway Administration to build the first-ever solar road panel prototype. After successful completion of this project, they were awarded a follow-up contract by the FHA to build a prototype parking lot and test it under all weather and sunlight conditions.
Here are some of the potential advantages: less need to depend on fossil fuels and imported oil, much less pollution — including drastic reductions of greenhouse gases — and eventually an electric road that allows all-electric vehicles to recharge just about anywhere.
That means that electric cars would have the same range as gasoline-powered vehicles. Internal combustion engines would become obsolete. Our dependency on oil could come to an end.
This all sounds pretty fantastic. A road that pays for itself and can power the grid? Getting rid of internal combustion engines?
Consider our current road system. Asphalt roads are constructed with petroleum-based products for petroleum guzzling-vehicles. We currently have over 3 million miles of asphalt roadways in this country that absorb the heat of the sun. What if we could harness that energy?
The Brusaws predict we could produce three times the energy we need as a nation, thereby eliminating coal-fired power plants. And we would create many jobs, since we’d need to manufacture 5 billion sections of new solar roadway to replace our existing roads.
To help bring this technology to production, Solar Roadways started a crowd-sourcing campaign on April 22 with the goal of raising $1 million before June 20. So far more than $2 million has been raised — a sign of tremendous grass-roots support.
Check out the entertaining fundraising video by searching online for “Solar Freakin’ Roadways.”
Many naysayers are trying to dismiss this innovative technology. And of course there are many logistical details to work out. The plan is to start with parking lots and bike paths and go from there.
The Solar Roadways team is showing us that we can re-engineer some current technologies and drastically alter the way we live and consume. Perhaps it’s time to upgrade our infrastructure and hit the road with some 21st century technology.
Bill Laberge, a solar consultant who lives in Dorset, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit solarroadways.com.
Julie and Scott Brusaw of Solar Roadways