• Mar 7th 2008 at 12:55PM
  • 13
Last September, we told you about the idea for a solar road that would generate power, even when used as normal. Vehicles would drive on the road, but a translucent glass surface backed by photovoltaic solar collectors would suck up the sun's energy into super- and ultracapacitors throughout the day. In some areas at some times, the energy would be used to heat the road and melt snow and ice, but the real holy grail here, IMHO, is to plug the road into the grid. Apparently, by using this three-layer solar road on all of the highways in the U.S., we could generate enough electricity to power the world. Seriously.
The brains behind this idea is Scott Brusaw, and the good news for all of us is that the solar roads idea is moving forward. An Idaho-based company called Solar Roadways has been attempting to get universities and research labs on board and is also working on a 45-mile prototype between Coeur D'Alene and Sandpoint, Idaho. Investors - because this will not be a cheap project - will be approached once Solar Roadways has cost estimates although Brusaw said four companies have expressed interest.

This project shouldn't be confused with the solar energy stored in asphalt idea that Dutch company Ooms Avenhorn is working on or the new solar road studs developed by Astucia in the UK. These are all very cool ideas, but Brusaw's has the most potential, should it be implemented. There's a video interview with Brusaw after the break.





[Source: Renewable Energy World]


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  • 13 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      This sounds great to me. I think one of the major advantages to using the solar cell as the traction surface for vehicles to drive on is that we don't have to sacrifice more land (which is what you would need to do if you wanted to put solar panels next to the road). I have to admit that security is a bit frightening to thing about, but the concept sounds great overall. This would also make vehicle travel in general much more efficient with more electric cars, like the Xebra and Alias from Zap (www.zapworld.com) hitting the roads. The capacitors would also allow for power system grid surges throughout the day. Really neat concept.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Further thoughts:
      Another consideration might be an elevated solar array literally over the top of the roadbed, allowing vehicles to drive in the shade, reducing their A/C load while the sunlight is collected above. Think of a solar collector covered parking lot but miles longer. The arrays could be angled to take better advantage of the sun, and a slope would allow snow and rain to run off.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Let's consider the claims made last time, shall we?

      1) Durability: a legit concern. Let's see what they come up with.

      2) Dirt and sand: A legit concern. Let's see how it works out.

      3) Maintenance "more difficult than on a rooftop". Huh? Last I checked, it's a heck of a lot easier to drive a maintenance vehicle up to a *road* than a rooftop. ;)

      4) Tilt: Not an issue with printed cells, as described above.

      5) Shadows: Go to google maps and pick a random highway out in a random part of the country and look at how much of it is shadowed by cars. Almost none, that's how much. Here's the first spot that I randomly picked:

      http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=41.301286,-93.779227&spn=0.002652,0.007129&t=h&z=18

      The most notable thing about it is how *little* the interstate is shadowed because the area around it is cleared and flattened (a lot more "clear" and "flattened" than your typical rooftop, which may have vents, utility boxes, access points, etc). Yes, that pick happened to be a highway out in the middle of nowhere. But most of our highways *are* out in the middle of nowhere. Want an urban highway? Here's my first random pick -- the JFK expressway in Chicago:

      http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=41.984405,-87.83638&spn=0.002624,0.007129&t=h&z=18

      It's "busy", but still only minimally shadowed by cars. The fact is that in everything except for stop-and-go traffic, cars keep their distance from each other, and by a lot more than it may appear from the perspective of the driver's seat. This argument does not hold water.

      6) "so many square foot of unused roofage in the world that we don't have to look to roads": Not according to the last study I saw. I could dig it up again if desired.

      7) "You'd have to replace the solar panels after 2 years with the sort of abuse a road goes through.": No, you'd have to replace the transparent surface layer every two years. Cars don't drive on the panels in this proposal.

      8) "just one winter with studded snowtires, chains, snowplows, freezing ice, sand and salt, and it would be ruined." This would be legit except for, as Jack stated, "Why are we talking about using snow plows on a heated road?"

      9) Slipperiness: A legit concern, but I'd be amazed if they couldn't make a high traction translucent road deck.

      10) "Why not just use the side of the road?" Because the side of the road is called the "recovery area", and must be kept free of obstructions in case cars end up off the road. I suppose you could pave the ground with cells there, but that'd be extra paved land, which nobody likes.

      Did I miss any?
      • 7 Years Ago
      To start this blog I would like to mention briefly who I am so that I don't appear to be another idiot just posting my ideas. I am a chemistry, pre-med and Spanish major at the University of Idaho and I have been following this idea since its beginning. I did have my initial questions, but they were quickly cleared up by Scott and Julie themselves (the creators). I can tell that many of you have not done what I did and read Scott's explanations. You should all visit his website solarroadways.com or email him if you have any more questions.
      First I would like to address some of your concerns and criticisms myself. The true benefits of solar roadways is the fact that they would be smart roads. Yes, they would provide energy but they would keep our roads safe and clean. Placing them to the side or on top of the roads simply destroys the whole purpose and wastes our precious resources. Placing them on rooftops is a good idea too... but I am a college student as are many people and we don't exactly have the money to start buying solar panels for our dorms, apartments, etc. This way private investors, private companies and maybe even our country (our taxes) would be paying for their installation.
      The next concern is the problem of keeping the roads dry. Well believe it our not solar panels can heat themselves to melt snow and help evaporate rain. Unfortunately this would not be enough to keep them completely dry which is why Scott has thought up many possible techniques to try to allow the water to be transported elsewhere and may be even recycled!
      I have noticed that the surface seems to be a big concern for many of you. Well if you REALLY want to know what that is all about I suggest you email Scott. If you were just thinking of a way to be pessimistic then PLEASE just trust that Scott has met with many people who can create this. So from now on just leave those technical issues to us brainiacs ;D.
      Keep asking questions and I'll keep answering!
      AJ
      • 7 Years Ago
      They ought to do this on the shoulders instead of the roadway itself, that would give a ton of surface area (on highways and interstates at least) while ensuring that the panels don't get driven over 24/7. It's win win.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sounds like a great idea but why not use railroads instead? The area between the tracks is smaller but the panels don't need to be protected to withstand the cars and it would be very easy to keep them clean. Access to the grid should also be easier.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Didn't we already shoot enough holes through that idea last time you brought it up?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Yes, it might be technically feasable to make a transparent surface strong enough and durable enough to drive on, but it won't be cheap. As for the $47 per sq. ft. target price, current non-road solar panels cost more than that, so they are unlikely to reach a cost effective price.

      It actually might be more cost effective to build a canopy over the road and put solar panels there. That would also shade the cars on the road, thus less fuel used for A/C, and would deflect most or all the rain and snow thus increasing safety and reducing snow removal costs. Hey, there are covered bridges, why not covered roads?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Even though the idea is "going forward", I still don't think something like this could withstand 80,000-pound (36,000kg) trucks driving over it all day.

      I fail to see the advantage of using heavily-reinforced solar panels on the road versus regular solar panels right next to them.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I agree: road surfaces are subject to emmense pounding by 18 wheelers, and a solar collector surface would become scratched and less transmissive over time. What could be the advantage over conventional solar arrays?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Very, very cool if they can make the translucent surface durable and resistant to light obstruction. With such a reliable market for standardized cells as would be provided by an extensive DOT solar roadbuilding program, you can bet the CIGS industry would take off like a rocket. And with cells under $1/kW, that's a lot of cheap road power. And it'd make direct power from the road to EVs all the easier, minimizing onboard battery requirements.

      Heck, I bet they could account for the inherent loss in the system caused by the suboptimal angling of the panels. CIGS cells are printed or sputtered on, so you can control what parts of the panels get solar cell material and what parts don't. Which means you could make very fine stripes of solar material along your panel and have the panel stamped to have the optimal bend so that the stripes are pointing an the right angle, then embed that into your translucent surface.

      All that'll be needed is low cost energy storage (which, ideally, would be integrated into the road as well, enough for a couple days worth of power), and picture how radically different our world would be. :)
      • 7 Years Ago
      I can't believe there'd ever be any ROI with the continuous maintenance costs. Oh, now I get it.

      • 5 Years Ago
      How about solar sidewalks (and parking lots)? Should have less concern about the wear-and-tear factors.
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