Every once in a while, a really brilliant idea comes along, and we find ourselves wondering: Why didn't I think of that?
Well, this has got to be one of those brilliant ideas. Energy, especially solar energy, is a very hot topic these days. And with good reason. As the world's energy demands grow, the resources needed to supply this power seems to be getting less and less.
So, we have to think 'out of the box' to come up with a sustainable solution.
And that is exactly what Scott Brusaw from Solar Roadways, in Idaho USA, has done. What's more is that U.S. Department of Transportation is so impressed with his proposal that they have granted Solar Roadways USD$100,000 to further develop his prototype that turns roads into giant solar panels. The idea and the research behind it also makes a lot of sense in terms of cost, and environmental impact.
Firstly, Mr Brusaw believes that solar panel roads may last up to three times longer than current petroleum-based asphalt surfaces which have an average lifespan of about 7 years at a cost of USD$16 per square foot. Mr Brusaw hopes to produce solar panels with a lifespan of 21 years for USD$48 per square foot, which would not only save the inconvenience of road maintenance, but would also cost the same as a conventional asphalt road. Allright, so if it costs the same, then why implement solar roads instead of asphalt? Well, the answer is simple.
Although it costs the same, the solar power generated from the solar roads could potenially be more than what is needed for every home on the entire US power grid. In fact, if you were able to convert all the existing roads, parking lots and driveways in the US to solar panel roads, there would be more than three times more electrical power available than what all the homes in the entire US requires.
These calculations are not based on a more efficient type of solar panel, they are based on the average efficiency of a solar panel (which is only 15%). In effect, for this to work you do not even need to build more efficient solar panels. The efficiency on existing models produced will be enough.
Now, in addition to homes being powered just from this 'road grid', these roads can also be fitted with LED's that would further enhance driver experience by lighting up the roads much like the runway lighting seen at airports. The challenge now, is just to design the glass for the solar panels to have the same traction and load bearing qualities as current asphalt roads. But, Mr Brusaw says he has already spoken to scientists at Penn State University’s Materials Research Institute, and they have assured him they would have no problem in producing the type of glass with these requirements.
To put all of this into perspective, if they would replace one mile of a multi-lane highway with solar panels for instance, that would be enough to generate enough electricity to supply 500 homes completely, without having to tap into the main power grid. And all this can be done with an average of only 4 hours of sunlight per day.
If this system is implemented, Mr Brusaw says solar roads would be able to generate enough electricity to replace all centralized power stations (coal and nuclear powered plants included)