We’ve seen some interesting interpretations for the concept generally known as solar roadways. One that initially made sense to me is the idea of using hot blacktop as a solar thermal collector. Other less literal interpretations include the state of Oregon’s Solar Highway project and solar-powered signs and message boards already in use around the country.
Now, however, the concept has become about as literal as it can get - just check out Solar Roadways. These guys want to turn every mile of blacktop in the country into fully function solar panels, panels which they say could power our entire nation three times over. Now that’s an ambitious prediction, and the solar industry is full of those.
I want to throw my skeptic’s hat on for this one, but I don’t really need to. I mean the obvious responses are, well, just too obvious. We tell folks not to walk on the solar panels on their roof but you want us to drive our cars, trucks and buses on them? Their deadpan answer at Solar Roadways? (I dare speculate) Absolutely. I must admit their design seems very reasonable, ignoring about a million odd logistical questions - answers to which they probably wouldn’t divulge in detail at this point anyway. Here are some general characteristics of the solar roadway of the future:
- Roadways will be structurally-engineered solar panels collecting solar power for use in nearby homes and businesses.
- Replace current petroleum-based asphalt roadways.
- Contain embedded LED lights that will “paint” the yellow and white lines on the road.
- LEDs will also enable up-to-the-minute warning signs for drivers, signs actually embedded into the road to warn of upcoming traffic accidents, weather conditions, etc.
- Electric vehicles will be able to recharge along the roadside.
- Requires roughly 5 billion 12’x12’ panels to cover every asphalt surface in America (including parking lots), enough to power the United States three times over.
That is an impressive list of goals and I must admit, sounds really good. But as Lavar Burton would say, you don’t have to take my word for it. These guys are getting some attention, and some money, from the U.S. Department of Energy. According to their website, they’ve been elected to receive a $100,000 research grant to develop the Solar Roadways concept, enough money to complete a prototype solar panel.
You can bet we’ll be following this road…
Special thanks to grist.org