By George Harvey
Last year, Scott and Julie Brusaw ran an Indiegogo campaign to help fund a creative project called Solar Roadways. The idea was that the roads themselves could be solar photovoltaic (PV) collectors. It turned out that their idea had a wide appeal. The campaign raised over $2.2 million.
The idea of solar roads has been tried in other countries with some success. A section of a bicycle path was set up to generate electricity in the Netherlands. A 230-foot section of the road was converted to include PV modules. In its first six months of use, there were no problems of note, and the path produced enough electricity to power an average home. The project verified the expected output at 70 kilowatt hours per square meter per year. If this seems a bit low, remember that the panels cannot be tilted toward the sun because they form the surface of the road.
Aside from producing electricity, having a road made of solar modules has some safety implications. The modules can have LED lights built into them so they can glow in parts of roads that would otherwise be painted. They can also glow if detectors embedded in them detect pressure, providing a driver with a lighted warning that something is on the road. A solar road might give you the warning you need to avoid hitting a deer in the middle of the night.
The idea of making a road out of glass seems to defy logic, because glass breaks so easily. The thing is, if it is supported evenly so it cannot bend, it turns out to be very strong. It is so strong, in fact, that glass rods have been used to reinforce concrete for military bunkers in places where wartime shortages prevented steel from being used. Nevertheless, solar roads need to be tested under a broad set of conditions to prove they can be safe for vehicle traffic.
Now, testing is starting in the United States. The Missouri Department of Transportation is working with the inventors as part of its “Road to Tomorrow” initiative. The tests will be done on a short length of the historic Route 66. Most of the money for the initiative will come from the Brusaws’ original crowd-funding, with smaller amounts from the state and federal governments.
The developers’ hope is that everything will be installed for testing before the first snows fall in Missouri. If all turns out as expected, we may see solar roadways being adopted on a wider basis.