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Solar Roadways: An Idea that Could Change the Energy Landscape

published: 2011-09-16 8:57

Peak oil, environmental issues, high gasoline prices and energy independence all converge to make solar development a high priority for governments around the globe. In northern Idaho, one inventor has a system he believes will solve these energy-related issues and a myriad of other problems. Solar Roadways is the brainchild of Scott and Judy Brusaw. They claim the technology reduces or eliminates the “carbon footprint” of individuals and businesses.

Solar Roadways refer to an intelligent roadway system where solar modules replace asphalt and concrete roads. The road also has digital lights, dynamic displays embedded in the system. The concept aims to provide for several solutions, including energy distribution, electric car charging system, and garbage processing and energy generation without creating carbon dioxide emissions.

The road will be paved with solar panels. Each panel has an independent connection with a Ground Fault Interrupter typically found in many homes. The GFI protects against excess electricity flowing through the circuit or electrocution when it contacts water.

A disruptive event, such as an earthquake or other disaster could cause the loss of a say 50 percent of power. However, it would not affect the panels leading to your property. The system will store excess energy in the Solar Roadway or a nearby storage unit.

The challenge is to identify a material tough enough for drive on and able to protect the solar cells. The technology includes LED to light up the roadway at night. In addition, heating elements will prevent snow and ice accumulation.

Panel Development

Located in Sandpoint, Idaho, the company's Solar Roadways manufacturing facility receives it power source from hydroelectric dams. The factory's proximity to the rail system facilitates an efficient distribution network. The company plans to use the first solar panels generated by the plant in the construction of the firm's parking lot. Several weeks ago, Solar Roadways received a $750,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration to build the parking lot at its Idaho location.

The panels will include wireless LED lights, heating elements protected by a hearty glass that provides the same traction as asphalt. The panels have the durability necessary to withstand the weight of the heaviest tractor-trailer on the road

According to Brusaw, upon completion of the parking lot, the plant will have 100% energy independence and no longer have a need to connect to the grid. The company plans to build subsequent parking lots from existing Solar Road panels to reduce their own carbon footprints.

The Solar Roadway panel consists of three layers of materials: road, electronic and base layers.

· Road Layer has a clear high-strength glass that provides traction for vehicles, but still allows sunlight to strike embedded solar cells, heating elements and LEDs. This layer provides waterproof protection for the electronics layer.

· Electronic Layer contains the microprocessor board, which has the necessary circuitry to sense surface loads and operating the heating element. It also has a chip that controls communications, lighting, and monitoring. The system has a communication device place at 12-foot intervals.

· Base Plate Layer distributes the power generated at the electronic layer as well as data signals. The base layer is waterproof and protects the electronic layer.

The company will monitor, test, and collect data to use for future projects, including sidewalks, driveways, parking lot, and highways.

Output Numbers

The Solar Roadways' solar panel dimensions are 12-by-12 feet. A mile of roadway with four lanes uses 440 panels.  According to Brusaw, the panels have 15% efficiency and require four hours of sunlight per day. Each solar panel will generate 56. 28 kWh of electricity per day; this equals 24,763 kWh per day for each mile of panels.

Based on a 2007 Energy Information Administration report, the average U.S. household consumed 936 kWh of electricity per month or 31.2 kWh daily. Divide household use per day, into the amount of electricity generate by each mile of panels per day.   A mile of Solar Roadway panels could provide power for 793 homes a day.

One analyst performed some calculation based on the owners' assertions. Using an 18.5 % efficiency for solar modules, installing solar panels on 29,000 square miles of highways in the lower 48 states, would produce 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. This equals three times the U.S. annual usage and annual global consumption.

The analyst determined that the Solar Roadways system cost 50 percent more than traditional asphalt roads -- $3.47 to $2.29 per square feet. Brusaw states the cost as $10,000 per four-lane mile.

It's important to point out that the Solar Roadway intends to replace the existing power grid. Instead of distributing power from a central power plant, Solar Roadway panels generate power from the grid. The company emphasizes that any comparison of Solar Roadway to conventional road systems must include the following: asphalt roads systems, power poles and relay stations. Other externalities to consider include items, such as reduced CO2 emissions, recharging electric vehicles, and health benefits.

The system would also include data signals for, cable, telephone, television, high-speed Internet and other data signals to residential and commercial structures.


Along with generating revenues through electricity production, Brusaw states other possible monetization methods include selling advertising, recharging vehicles, and leasing roadside conduit to utility companies.

As Solar Roadways moves into the second development phase, many skeptics question the feasibility of the technology because of the many outstanding questions that need answers, including the glass cover and storage technology. The costs also require verification. The data gathered from the parking lot project should shed more light on this concept and how close the technology is to becoming a reality. The idea may not be as outlandish as some may believe.

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