Consumers have long embraced solar-powered technology as a somewhat “futuristic” way to help power and heat their homes. It’s hard to drive through today’s neighborhoods without spotting at least one home with a roof decked out in solar panels. But now, solar power has found its place on the road.

Solar-Powered Roads

There are plenty of startup success stories that have emerged from tiny garages, and yet most people fixate on the creation of the Macintosh computer. But have you heard the story of the exciting innovations that were sparked – not literally – from someone’s oil-spilled garage?

Julie and Scott Brusaw co-founded Solar Roadways after recognizing a need for an electric car-charging road that collects energy from the sun, helping power the entire U.S. grid.

 

It’s easy to hear the phrase “illuminated roadway” and think back to a movie like Tron, but thanks to modern innovation, Solar Roadways might become a reality. Solar Roadways are made up of photovoltaic cells and tempered glass that can withstand the weight of a 125 ton vehicle and offer enough traction to stop a car traveling at 128 kph on a wet surface. These roadways cover the solar cells and circuit boards with LED lights that can be programmed to light roads from the surface to help indicate lane lines, speed limits, even upcoming slow traffic. The hexagonal solar panels are connected to one another so if one stops working, the others will be able to communicate the problem to an engineer. Solar Roadways offer a solution to weather-related driving hazards, as they generate enough heat to melt ice and snow in colder climates, and could be used to collect and recycle runoff from the roads to ensure filtration.

While Solar Roadways are in testing, solar roads are already being implemented in Oregon. The Oregon Solar Highway project doesn’t cover a huge stretch of highway, yet the power generated from it already provides more than a third of the energy required to light the highway. If this technology continues to grow and all of the roads in the United States were replaced by effective solar-powered roads, Scott Brusaw believes we could “theoretically cut greenhouse gas emission by up to 75%” and provide a cleaner, greener future around the world.

Solar Bike Paths

If transitioning US roadways to solar-powered roads cuts 75% of greenhouse gas emissions, imagine what changing all of the roads and paths around the world could do. A Netherlands-based company called SolaRoad currently uses safety glass-covered solar cells placed in concrete to collect energy from a bike path connecting two Amsterdam suburbs, and their success might be a strong global example. Out of the 150,000 cyclists who have already tested the new path, there have been few complaints aside from a few maintenance issues with peeling laminate.

The path has generated 3,000 kWh of electricity in its first six months of use and hopes to improve upon that number in its next two and a half years of monitored use. The US has taken note, with California agreeing to cooperate with SolaRoad for future projects, making this an international effort.

Whether or not solar power is the perfect clean energy solution remains to be seen, but considering the large area taken up by roads and paths, and the ease of including solar cells in heavily-populated areas, solar powered roads and paths could represent at least one element of the perfect solution in our search for cleaner energy.

Written by IEEE on September 10, 2015