• Aug 19, 2011
What do you need to generate a lot of electricity from photoelectric solar cells? A lot of surface area. What is a lot of the surface of the United States covered in? Roads. Put those two ideas together, and the idea of turning the nation's highways into solar farms doesn't sound too odd, does it? Well, maybe it doesn't until you consider that you're talking about taking electronics – electronics that are typically somewhat delicate and rather expensive – and purposely putting them on the ground where heavy vehicles will zoom over them at high speed. Ouch.

Replacing crushed stone and tar with LEDs and capacitors seems so unlikely that when Solar Roadways was awarded $100,000 to construct a small, 12' by 12' prototype system in 2009, infrastructure blog The Infrastructionist gave the effort its "Dubious Green Scheme" award and labeled Solar Roadways not just "harebrained" but "totally batshit crazy."

As it turns out, that initial panel impressed the Department of Transportation enough that Solar Roadways has now been given $750,000 to take it to the next step: a solar parking lot. Constructed out of multiple 12' x 12' panels, the smart parking lot will do more than the asphalt alternative. It will warm itself in cold weather to melt away snow and ice. A layer of embedded LEDs can be used create traffic warnings or crosswalks. Electricity leftover from those tasks could be used to charge electric vehicles or routed into the power grid. The electrical components will be embedded between layers of hardened, textured glass – this may sound fragile, but is already tough enough that some areas use the material for sidewalks.

Parking lots, driveways, and eventually highways are all targets for the panels. If the nation's system of interstate highways was surfaced with Solar Roadways panels, the results would be more than three times the amount of electricity currently consumed. Of course, at $100,000 per 12', costs would need to come down significant bit before that could happen.

And if you're wondering who gets this first super-smart parking lot the answer is... Scott Brusaw, the CEO of Solar Roadways. Now who's crazy?


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 47 Comments
      Hans
      • 3 Years Ago
      The idea's been around for a longer while now, but it all sounds a bit adventurous really. Why not make an intermediate step and stick with more commodity technology - use the thermal power of a hot road's surface to generate electricity? Less efficient maybe, but practical.
        skierpage
        • 1 Day Ago
        @Hans
        What "thermal power"? You can only generate electricity from a heat differential. A road isn't that much warmer than its surroundings. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermoelectric_effect
      diffrunt
      • 3 Years Ago
      surely this won,t be found in the parking spaces ?
      • 3 Years Ago
      This sounds like a cool concept, but I do wonder about the location of the solar panels. Won't they be covered by cars during the day (when the sun is out)? Wouldn't solar canopies above the cars be a better idea? Then they would provide shade as well. I'm all for solar power, but I'm thinking alot of the panels would be covered by cars and thus not generating power. Thoughts?
        Stacey
        • 3 Years Ago
        There's more roadway than cars. I'm guessing this would be better suited to roadways outside built up areas, particularly where vehicles are always moving. A car might block an individual panel for a second or so, but then it might be some time before the next vehicle comes along.
      BipDBo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Am I crazy or does it not make any sense to spend a bunch of taxpayer debt to allow this guy to drive on top of his solar cells when we currently have the technology to drive under them, in the shade? Didn't we learn anything from those cozmonauts and their pencils? This is subsidizing at its stupidest.
        methos1999
        • 3 Years Ago
        @BipDBo
        actually the reason we chose not to use pencils is due to concern over graphite floating in the capsule and interfering with electronics...
        Stacey
        • 3 Years Ago
        @BipDBo
        No, subsidizing at its stupidest is paying farmers NOT to farm...
      lne937s
      • 3 Years Ago
      It is like they are trying to kill the solar industry by picking the least practical place to put solar panels. So they are putting solar panels in a place where they will get very dirty and scratched, where they will be frequently shaded by cars, where they are not angled at the sun, where they have to withstand multiple tons of vehicles driving over them, etc... Then some idiot will look at the failure and claim all solar panels are a waste of money, rather than realizing this is just a poor application for solar panels. It is no doubt easier, cheaper, more efficient and more effective to build a canopy of solar panels covering the entire parking lot than it is to make a solar parking lot surface-- And you get protection from the weather as an added bonus. There are many places in solar that could use more investment. This should not be diverting those resources.
        sirvixisvexed
        • 3 Years Ago
        @lne937s
        You're kind of ignorant and so are the people who voted you up because what you say in your post shows that you haven't read anything else about this company; because if you did you would already know that the materials part of the equation was never an issue. (that is, having the clear surface hardened glass material strong enough to support semi trucks and not scratch the hardware). Yet you have such a strong opinion, and a ridiculous offshoot claim that they are trying to derail the solar industry (omg...). As a general strategy, do a little more reading about something before you throw up random excuses about why it won't work, And again...the goal is not solar parking lots. Even if it was...a parking lot FULL of vehicles still probably only has 40% of its surface actually shaded. Why not have a solar parking lot WITH solar canopies above cars as well? Shade does not receive zero power just because it's in the shade. The more solar the merrier. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_roadway Read the "Driving on glass?" response.
      Ian Bruce 伊恩·布鲁斯
      I like this idea. Naturally, the cost have to come down... but, hey... my first LaserWriter cost me $8 grand. I'd like to see some figures on this vs. maintenance of traditional road surfaces -- I expect some savings there. Highway illumination is expensive: installation, maintenance, energy. I also imagine there's a significant social and financial benefit from reducing the number of accidents, and particularly, fatalities on US highways. Traffic flow could be also directed dynamically, and that's a significant plus. There's also something I call the Inevitability Factor i.e.: does this look like something we're likely to see in the future. If there's no downside except manufacturing costs (silica is cheap), I'd say this was a good candidate.
      • 3 Years Ago
      7 to 12 million dollars per mile + radiant snow and ice melting systems + 12 MW of solar radiation under STC (c. 1-2 MW captured = up to 3-6 million dollars if not more) + LED lighting + grid energy storage and it all starts to add up. Wouldn't be that useful in cities if skyscrapers block the sun, but (interstate) highways are excellent places to use this type of technology with all the abundant land area as long as we get rid of saline (i.e. not next to ocean) and sulphur (i.e. combustion engines) sources that tend to degrade solar cells the worst. Perhaps they already have the solution. It's good to see that there's attempt for more diverse use of solar energy even if it doesn't instantly pay off. We need building-integrated and vehicle-integrated photovoltaics and more to increase the affordability and volume for solar technology.
      mchlrus1
      • 3 Years Ago
      THis is the dumbest idea ever, put it on buildings, where there's not shade from cars and trucks. If it's in a parking lot like the Piggly Wiggly there's going to be cars on top of the wasted solar panels and money for most of the duration of the day. Am I the only one who thinks of this? If you can replace a roof with this, you're not wasting space.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @mchlrus1
        mchirus1 - Agreed - dumb as a box of rocks. Beyond the car shadows, just imagine all the nice, opaque fluids that leak out of cars and trucks, and cover the spaces. Imagine a windy day, and all the dirt covering the surface. Imagine the road being destroyed when they need to get to a sewer line underneath. Our government at work.
          Ian Bruce 伊恩·布鲁斯
          Right Fritz. Everyone knows that all lane markings completely disappear from highways a week after they're opened. I don't know why they even bother painting them on... what with all them fluids an' dust an' possums an' such. Durn guv'mint.
          Ian Bruce 伊恩·布鲁斯
          Fritz... I checked out a bunch of sat images of parking lots in the Oaklahoma City (Dust Bowl territory), and I see no evidence of the phenomena you're describing: 35°28'4.06"N, 97°30'26.36"W 35°27'49.29"N, 97°30'15.79"W 35°28'30.14"N, 97°34'37.18"W
          sirvixisvexed
          • 3 Years Ago
          Who exactly was it that said the road would be build by government employees? And isn't it more stupid to assume that many parts of an expensive road will be laid and then dug up for sewers? Such things are decided on a city level, you talk ignorantly like the decisions are made on a federal level. If some town is stupid enough to dig up an expensive patch of solar road designed to last 50 years, that's a good enough excuse to say that the tech is stupid? lol. Those panels will have 10 times the life of asphalt roads, why not talk about the ridiculous savings?
          • 1 Day Ago
          Ian - If you bothered to read the original post, you would have discovered we were talking about parking lots, not roads. Paint a parking space completely white, give it 3-6 months, and come back. Sirvexed - My "government at work" comment was in reference to the Department of Transportation, and the $750,000 of our tax dollars being wasted on this moronic and stupid idea. Loved your little rant and insult though.
        seamusdubh
        • 3 Years Ago
        @mchlrus1
        Take a look at an aerial view of your local mall, retail center, or grocery store, and tell me how much space the parking lot takes up compared to the building. And of that not taken up by cars. (i.e. drive paths) With the exception of major shopping sale days, most of these lots are relatively empty on a regular basis anyway.
        sirvixisvexed
        • 3 Years Ago
        @mchlrus1
        Well the company is called solar ROADWAYS, not solar PARKING LOTS. The parking lot is just one step, but also to throw out totally random statistics, i would say that throughout the course of an entire day, if you count the entire surface area of an entire parking lot, even a busy one as you suggest, it still generates probably 70% of what a totally unshaded solar array of the same size would. A road though, will be even better, the quick shadow of passing cars won't do much to hurt the amount of sunlight coming in.
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      Imagine the hacking possibilities. >:-)
      Timo
      • 3 Years Ago
      People here are comparing costs to road building. Don't. You should be comparing this to building power plant. How many miles you can cover with plain standard coal power plant that equals same energy generation plus the building cost of the road. If it produces more energy than it costs to build and maintain in its lifetime it is worth it. Using same calculation we should be building solar power plants in space right now, only reason we are not doing that is that it is so much cheaper to just burn coal.
      sirvixisvexed
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow and everyone i've ever heard talk about the american space pen versus russian pencil was someone making a joke about americans being dumb.
      BipDBo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Good to know. I had heard somewhere that the space pen thing was a myth, but didn't know why. I only used it because it's kindof a funny, well known story.
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