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Solar Roadways: Turning Pavement into Power

by | published June 5th, 2014

If you haven’t heard of Scott and Julie Brusaw yet, chances are you will before too long.

They are the founders of a crowd-funded idea that may just revolutionize both transportation and energy.

It is the coolest idea I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s so inventive it could flat-out change everything we think about power.

In fact, the U.S. government has taken the Brusaw’s idea seriously enough to provide them with a small pilot grant, and a crowd-funding effort has raised almost $2 million from individuals all across the country.

Their idea is nothing less than to create “solar roadways”…

Solar Panels You Can Drive On

The idea is this: To turn America’s roads into power-generating solar panels. This approach could generate three times our annual energy needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by some 75%.

The vision here is mind blowing. Better yet, the technology to make it all happen is already available. And while “solar roadways” may start with small demonstration projects, the greater objective is the biggest energy target you are likely ever to see.

In fact, the entertaining video used in the investment pitch for this idea has virtually gone viral. You may have already seen it. At last count over six million people have watched it.

It can be found at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-roadways. The idea is billed as “Solar panels that you can drive, park, and walk on.”

Now I hasten to add that this video and the accompanying information is an investment pitch for a private initiative. Do not invest at this point. There are still too many ways this can fall on its face.

Because when it comes to game-changing new ideas in renewable energy, there are a number of hurdles involved. And if you are also proposing to change the very fabric of how we get around, that might take even longer.

Nonetheless, it remains one of the most striking examples of the entrepreneurial drive I have ever witnessed.

As the indiegogo pitch notes:

“Solar Roadways is a modular paving system of solar panels that can withstand the heaviest of trucks (250,000 pounds). These Solar Road Panels can be installed on roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, bike paths, playgrounds… literally any surface under the sun. They pay for themselves primarily through the generation of electricity, which can power homes and businesses connected via driveways and parking lots. A nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than a country uses as a whole.

The panels have many other features as well, including: heating elements to stay snow/ice free, LEDs to make road lines and signage, and an attached Cable Corridor to store and treat storm water and provide a “home” for power and data cables. EVs (electric vehicles) will be able to charge with energy from the sun (instead of fossil fuels) from parking lots and driveways and after a roadway system is in place, mutual induction technology will allow for charging while driving.”

Of course, critics point out that the process will be extraordinarily expensive. Asphalt, after all, is cheap. Solar panels are not. And economics will go a long way to determining whether anything eventually comes of this idea.

Yet, on the plus side, the technology is already available and the entire concept has been well thought out and impressively visualized.

Take a look at the video and make your own judgment. This idea could just make the phrase “Made in America” take on a whole new meaning.

Thinking Outside of the Box

Of course, I have commented on new developments in energy efficiency and renewables in OEI on numerous occasions. Many of the advances headed our way are likely to make an impact somewhere down the line. Others are more of a technical nature, filling in a gap here or taking a necessary step there.

It’s all fascinating stuff, but at the moment it’s not about to change how you design a short-term energy investment strategy.

Yet the sheer number of “breakthroughs” comparable to the “solar road” is rather impressive.

For example, just consider these innovative new ideas for a moment…

A research project at Grand Valley State University’s energy center in Muskegon, Mich., has developed a new laminated glass they call “Suntuitive.” It works by placing a thermochromic (color changes with temperature) interlayer between window panes.

This interlayer adapts passively to direct sunlight, can enhance indoor comfort and day lighting while blocking heat generated from sunlight, glare and ultraviolet light without window shades or other sun-blocking devices.

“Suntuitive” requires no electrical or mechanical assistance. Needless to say, its widespread use would make a significant dent in the energy usage across a range of structures.

Then there is what they are up to in a lab at the University of California Riverside. Their ongoing research is one of several heralded developments in energy storage that may usher in a whole new generation of applications.

At UC Riverside, the attention is on supercapacitors.

Unlike conventional batteries, which store electrical power by converting electrical into chemical energy, supercapacitors essentially hang “extra” electrons on their molecular surface, which allows for much faster charging and discharging times.

The hang up here has always been that the storage capacity of supercapacitors is limited by their “energy density.” They just don’t have enough surface area on which to hang additional electrons.

At UC Riverside they have been experimenting with new materials to get around this surface limitation. One of them uses graphene, an artificial form of carbon with a staggering amount of surface area on the subatomic scale. This has resulted in a new nanotechnology that is already providing twice the power of commercially available supercapacitors.

Given that the approach requires graphene foam and the use of rare metals like ruthenium, there are some serious price problems with this method. But research is ongoing to apply other materials.

Both of these are excellent examples of the tried and true “one step at a time” slow progress of scientific experimentation. It begins with slow prodding. Then one day there is a massive discovery and it’s off to the races.

As the Brusaws and so many other innovativors show, it’s amazing what you can achieve when you’re willing to think outside the box.

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  1. Charley
    June 5th, 2014 at 15:55 | #1

    This solar roadway sounds good, In fact it almost sounds too good to be true. I will be all for it if it is shown to be viable. However, before I can even begin to get excited about it I will have to see the results of long term tests in a variety of places in the US. For starters the panels need at least a 10 mile long 5 year highway test in Arizona/New Mexico, Wyoming and the Dakotas, the Gulf coast, the Pacific North West, and several high traffic corridors. If the idea passes those tests done by an independent com0pany then the idea will be worth getting excited about.

  2. Bob Klecha
    June 5th, 2014 at 15:58 | #2

    Thanks for the post on solarroadways, we could use graphene to print the circuit boards beneath the solar array. Pop in the leds and away we go,
    like the first railroad across the United States, a solar road could bring change so fast in our lifetime.

  3. Gerald Paxton
    June 5th, 2014 at 16:37 | #3

    People are not thinking this through…where are the batteries for storage?…where is the storage capacity to keep snow melted during a week long (or longer) storm?…at a cost of (my guess) $150/tile, how much more per mile than blacktop (which we can’t seem to place or MAINTAIN)? Cute idea for a very rich man’s driveway.

  4. Tony
    June 5th, 2014 at 16:52 | #4

    I want to invest.

  5. Michael
    June 5th, 2014 at 18:02 | #5

    All of this is great ideas which can go a long way but the folks who are in favor of fossil energy are putting up a hard fight especially as new discoveries of oil is on the rise. The present market trend is making it expensive for these ideas to work hope oneday the world will wake up and give more support to folks like these who wants to see a better world.

  6. Robert Siedell
    June 5th, 2014 at 18:58 | #6

    There seems to be no end of fantastic ideas on energy. Solar highways is certainly one of them. But in terms of investing in these ideas, I think it has to be which are the most everyday useable and the closest to being commercial ready.
    Now if you could put a see thru film on every window in the world; and that film could even produce energy from artificial light. I think you would have a winner, regardless of what follows–!?

  7. NotThatStupidYet
    June 5th, 2014 at 19:52 | #7

    You know, I heard of the solar road thing a few years back, thought it was a crock of manure then, and still think it is, the fact that government is giving them money pretty much proves it. Steel reinforced concrete and asphalt roads can barely be installed properly in this country without cost overruns. Now take something that is more complicated, it will be a total waste of money. Please. Oh, and by the way, capacitors, like batteries, they wear out.

  8. Bob Klecha
    June 6th, 2014 at 16:28 | #8

    You grid tie the modules, no batteries needed. Unlike oil, they pay for themselves. Mass production and U.S. jobs.

  9. CB
    June 6th, 2014 at 16:32 | #9

    Ingenious idea, and I’ve been glad to follow them as they double their funding goal.

    I agree that there are massive implications of an undertaking like this. To the two implications that have been listed in the comments I’ve seen— 1. It sounds like solar panels in snowy areas are built to sustain a baseline temperature that will melt snow (see video), and 2. Comparing the price of installing asphalt with these panels is not such a quickly computed thing. When has asphalt ever generated energy? There’s a difference between something that sits and erodes over time (asphalt) and something that generates energy all day, which translates into tangible value.

    That being said, it’s worth asking
    -what is the life of these panels?
    -how long would it take for the road solar panels to ‘pay for themselves’? Similarly, what is the ’embedded’ energy cost for them?
    -what sort of batteries are required for this, and are they a feasible undertaking in the context?

  10. Charley
    June 9th, 2014 at 23:53 | #10

    @Bob Klecha There is a portion of the night when the ENTIRE 48 contiguous states is in total darkness and that is true for a longer period in winter. Large banks of storage batteries would be needed just for powering the de-icing function in winter if nothing else and that does not allow for running your heating or cooling during the night time hours.

  11. Brad W
    June 10th, 2014 at 17:49 | #11

    @Bob; don’t forget that the present method of clearing roads is not free, very expensive machinery/labour/fossil fuels need to be used. Also, think of all the accidents that wouldn’t happen on icy roads. Ppl could also ride bikes/motorcycles through at least part of the winter, and that would also save energy.
    True that they wouldn’t generate much energy during the winter months, it may take a much higher oil price before they are feasible (without subsidy) in some areas.

  12. Mike Holly
    June 12th, 2014 at 14:51 | #12

    Why can’t we have free markets in electricity markets (instead of utility monopolies) so ideas like this have a chance to compete? Let the market decide!

  13. Bob Rogers
    June 12th, 2014 at 14:52 | #13

    Their concept is so revolutionary and fascinating. Problem is $2-million in crowd-funding is a pittance … and they don’t want “deep pocket” help. That could be their downfall.

  14. Francis Chan
    June 12th, 2014 at 17:24 | #14

    I am more concerned about the security issues.
    Highwaymen and robbers are glad to know that you have the systems installed especially in those remote areas. They can disable the systems before they can take action.

  15. Al Bennett
    August 30th, 2014 at 12:59 | #15

    I’d be quite interested in having this installed onto my concrete drive. Is it available or when might it be?

  16. Frenchy
    August 30th, 2014 at 13:30 | #16

    I like the ideal but how will tires adhere to the glass solar panels? Wet panels sounds slippery to me, especially in curves etc…

  17. Jerry
    August 30th, 2014 at 18:44 | #17

    I read about this idea, several years ago. The Israeli company that apparently was the first to come up with idea is INNOWATTECH. When I read about this, I contacted the company to see if I could buy their stock. It is a privately owned company. I will pass this info to them. Hopefully, they have an international patent.

  18. C zoe
    September 13th, 2014 at 16:12 | #18

    @Charley

    by Americans failing Math and Science in grade school we’ve come to this WOW can you just go down and buy a simple meter and do a test. Oh no you might not like the results. Fell sorry for those who wasted time and money on this just ask the inventors for some independent lab tests would you? If you can’t get that from them go by this meter Amp Probe and measure it yourself and see what you come up with you might just start crying.

  19. Trent Cannon
    December 20th, 2014 at 13:55 | #19

    @Gerald Paxton
    In overcast weather these make more energy than traditional solar panels. And if you calculate in maintenance costs and upkeep for traditional roads, with the billions of dollars spent every year to keep roads working, they said that if they were able to build one panel for a 1000 dollars they could break even with asphalt, and they severely undercut that with the price for the current build, being much lower than that.

  20. Trent Cannon
    December 20th, 2014 at 14:05 | #20

    @Charley
    The heating modules only require 10% of the energy produced to keep them free from snow and ice. Not to mention they even gain energy from the lights on your car. Their initial test was 85 miles from the highest point in the US, in the middle of winter, and their calculations showed that if they covered all the roads they would produce 3 times the energy used by the US. Now that is in almost the worst possible conditions in the US. In further south states, the energy produced would be much higher, thus leading to more energy on the grid. Not to mention they plan on incorporating piezoelectric components in as well, which gain energy from vibrations. So far they have said that the heating elements require more energy than is produced at night, but they also said that they won’t be on all the time. They’re only needed when there is active precipitation. All the rest of the time they can be off. Doesn’t matter if it’s -2 if there isn’t any snow coming down.

  21. Trent Cannon
    December 20th, 2014 at 14:06 | #21

    @C zoe
    They already have been confirmed by different institutions, and even got 850,000 dollars from the Government for testing, which is how they were able to prove it.

  22. Trent Cannon
    December 20th, 2014 at 14:08 | #22

    @Francis Chan
    Well the systems are designed to communicate with each other for their work, which means they also broadcast location and functionality. Any robber dumb enough to steal one would be surprised when cops drive straight up to where it was to arrest him. The broadcasting functionality is important as well, because then it can tell the system when one isn’t working so it can be replaced.

  23. Trent Cannon
    December 20th, 2014 at 14:12 | #23

    @Frenchy
    They tested the friction coefficient at a university lab. The current design actually grips better in wet road conditions than normal asphalt. They actually designed one whose grip was so strong it was tearing up the wheels, and had to go down from that. As it is now, they have a design that can stop a car going 80 miles per hour in wet conditions in the required distance.

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