Sunny Streets, Smart Streets: The Potential of Solar Roadways

The recent blackout experienced by Bangladesh due to national power grid failure caused an uproar in and out of the country. On that day, while grudgingly working at my laptop, knowing that it was going to switch off anytime soon, something came in my mind. Did this mean as a sign to us that we should be aware of saving energy?

While it is everyone’s duty to take part in sustaining the environment, developed countries are expected to play the exemplary roles here as they are accused to be the most responsible in causing climate change. So it is gratifying to see that people living in those countries are trying to contribute in this issue – like that in the case of smart, solar roadways.

Inventors of the Solar Highways
Inventors of the Solar Highways

Solar roadway is the brainchild of Scott and Julie Brusaw, a couple residing in Idaho, USA. They have proposed a prototype of changing the regular asphalt roads into a new power source by using solar panels. How is that achieved? Instead of using asphalt, roads will be solar replaced with solar panels, LEDs and a heat storage. LEDS will work as road markers, whereas heating will be needed to melt ice, snow and the like. Solar cells will be used to store energy however if possible can be connected to the national grid, the benefits being massive energy generation to feed the system itself and recharge of electric vehicles while moving. All these have been planned with a view to ameliorate the existing greenhouse emission scenario.

As Scott said, “In the U.S., roughly half of greenhouse gases is generated by burning fossil fuels to create electricity. Another 25% comes out of our tailpipes. By replacing coal with solar and making electric vehicles practical — which could lead to the end of internal combustion engines — we could theoretically cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75%.”

The couple received funding several times from the US government’s Federal Highway Administration to run the project. They are also using a website to gather funds from public donation. This they need for logistics to carry on their next steps, as it will not be possible to do all the works by hand which they did for their first project.

In the prototype, the panels were subjected to load testing and proven to support a truck weighing about three to four times as the heaviest ones that American highways usually experience. According to the inventor, this project is applicable to any surface area be it motorways, parking lots, pavements or playgrounds. The roadways are also claimed to prevent accidents as they will have more grip on tyres than concrete or asphalt.

Indeed, there are several factors which are to be taken into account in order to sustain this project. The time, money and skilled labor required will be hard to manage, and the loss will not be compensated in the first few years through the roads’ own power generation. It is estimated that the required cost may range from 50%-300% of traditional asphalt roadways, while the total cost for the whole of America’s interstate highways being around 1 trillion US dollars. Durability of the solar panels compared to asphalt pavements, and the complexities in repairing these will add to the inconsistencies in the availability of solar powers. Hopefully more research will open the doors to find solutions to such limitations.

You can listen to Scott talking about his project in his TEDxSacramento Talk here:

Check out their website as well at Solar Roadways to know more.

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