Is Paving the Roads with Solar Panels the Future of Solar Energy?

Is Paving the Roads with Solar Panels the Future of Solar Energy?
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Julie and Scott Brusaw, co-founders of the Sandpoint, Idaho based company Solar Roadways, believe they will be able to completely replace asphalt roads with solar cells.

They claim their roads will be able to not only generate energy but melt snow, direct traffic, and even drive our cars for us. There are also very many health benefits to these panels. For example, Solar Roadway has the ability to cut greenhouse gases by up to 75%. You would actually be able to smell the difference in the air from the lack of carbon emissions being produced. The company also uses as much recycled materials as possible in their production. If all of the roads in the U.S. are covered to Solar Roadways then that would generate three 3x the amount of energy that we currently use.

Around 3 years ago, the couple posted the video above along with a fundraising campaign that raised over $2 million. With the amount of money they raised as well as funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the company has been able to improve their “smart” road tiles, which contain solar cells, LED lights, a heating element, and wireless communication.

Near the beginning of the year, the team was able to complete a public installation of 30 panels in Sandpoint, which have the ability to display an image of Earth.

In the next few months the company is going to be installing small arrays in Colorado and Maryland, but is expecting a lot more places for the panels to be installed rather than just using paved roads to generate energy. These other options include sidewalks, parking lots, solar recreation courts where you can choose the figuration of the court. If you want to play basketball, you can, or if your kids want to play hopscotch or four square, they can with a simple push of a button.

These are all possibilities due to the LED lights on the circuit board that can be programmed to make landscape designs, warning signs, parking lot configurations, etc. This means that roads will never have to have lanes repainted, just reprogrammed if they are messing up or if the configuration needs to be changed. If something is going wrong, each panel can be replaced one at a time, if damaged or malfunctioning.

The company was just wrapping up their second contract with the Federal Highway Administration where they built a parking lot made of 108 of their solar panels in Sagle, Idaho when a fan got in contact with the company and volunteered to make a video for them. This video ended up gaining a lot more attention then they ever thought it would. The video currently has over 22 million views on Youtube.

According to Julie, they knew once they created the idea and spread the word, the project would take off, but the journey for them has been very difficult because they didn’t have the funding to do it. Now they are in their third contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which funds the company for their research, but unfortunately, doesn’t provide them with enough money for manufacturing. IndieGogo funding gave the company enough funds for prototypes and equipment, and now they have tackled all of their engineering issues and are ready for production. Production costs are expected to be around $15 million.

Solar Roadways has been working on many new concepts, such as dynamic charging for electric vehicles. Dynamic Charging takes place when you drive over electric charging plates in the street, in an electric vehicle, and the plates charge the battery of your car. As of right now, there are some companies that are doing that, but their method of digging holes in the asphalt and placing their transmitter plate inside of the asphalt isn’t very sensible.

Scott and Julie were invited to test out Google’s new invention: a driverless car. This car is is guided with GPS satellites, which is pretty accurate, but needs some improvement. Scott believes that their panels would help improve the car’s accuracy due to the fixed location on the panels. According to Scott, “In theory, the road could actually guide the car. You could say, take me to Walmart, and take a nap, and it will even find a parking place for you and wake you up when you’re ready.” These concepts are not ready yet because the company will have to get in a massive amount of infrastructure to enable both of those ideas.

Julie is really hoping to get their technology on playgrounds, which will allow children to play outside at anytime during the year. If it’s snowing or icy outside the panels will be able to melt the snow and ice to allow the kids to still go outside and play. These panels will introduce fun new ways for kids to play outside and exercise. They might even be able to help with childhood obesity.

The company is going to be testing the panels in non-critical applications first, which include driveways, parking lots, and playgrounds. This is because if anything were to go wrong, it won’t hold up traffic. The next step after completing those areas is to move onto neighborhood roads with slow-moving traffic and lighter weighing vehicles. After that, the company will move onto the fast lane in on highways. Scott claims these panels can be places on any hard surface under the sun and the company has gotten a lot of interest from airports recently.

In the beginning of the project, many people doubted Scott and Julie and said they were crazy. There were many concerns that people had about these panels. The first concern was that you can’t drive on glass because when it rains cars will slide off the road. Scott tackled that concern by putting traction on the tempered glass panels.

The second concern was that the panels will never be able to support a truck, but when the panels were tested the results shows that the panels could support a truck that weighs 250,000 pounds, which is over three times the legal weight limit on the highway.

The last challenge the company has to tackle is the price. They are hoping that mass manufacturing will help them get an estimate for the pricing. The pricing does not matter as much because they’re solar panels so they’re going to be paying for themselves as soon as they are up and running.

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