Solar Roadways Becoming a Reality

| By Editorial Staff

What if the roads we drive on daily were the key to energy independence and a massive reduction of greenhouse emission? It seems unlikely, but not according to Julie and Scott Brusaw, the two engineers behind Solar Roadways.

Solar Roadways is a green energy company that’s committed to building roadways that use solar technology. In 2006, they launched an Indiegogo campaign that raised $2.24 million (the campaign is now in demand, meaning it can continue to accept ongoing donations). Since then, the husband-and-wife team have been hard at work building prototypes and conducting interviews to help spread the word about what they promise to be a revolutionary innovation across the globe.

But they’re not the only ones to think so. In 2014, Solar Roadways was named one of the greatest 100 innovations of the year by Popular Science. They were mentioned in President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

With all of this continued momentum and success, the Brusaws are currently working on their prototypes, in the hopes of installing their first public installation later this year.

But this momentum wasn’t always there. Like most innovators, the Brusaws began their journey with doubt, apprehension, and uncertainty.

From idea to innovation

Julie and Scott Brusaw have known each other for nearly all of their lives (they met as toddlers). They eventually married and shared similar career aspirations and dreams.

During what was likely just a passing conversation between husband and wife, Julie asked why roads couldn’t be built out of solar panels. Scott pondered this, and (as is typical with any new concept introduced) began to poke holes in it. Namely, he was concerned with how fragile solar panels were. He moved on from that idea.

Or at least, he tried to.

But the notion kept haunting him. He and Julie both knew, if it could be done, it would change the world forever. So it became a question of how can it be done, rather than if it could be done.

Using their instinctual curiosity blended with a foundation in engineering, the Brusaws set out on not just dreaming up a concept, but ensuring that their idea could become a reality. Nearly 10 years into the making, and not only have they garnered support from donors worldwide, but they’ve taken steps closer to proving that solar power roadways aren’t the stuff of science fiction. They’re the stuff of present day.

The power of these solar powered roadways

The solar powered roadway is so much more than a solar panel in place of asphalt, and the benefits – if realized – are astounding.

  1. Lights and warnings: A thick and strong tempered glass protects the solar panels. Within the glass are LEDs that can light up in a variety of colors to serve many purposes including as lines for the road, and to warn drivers of an upcoming issue. The panels are pressure sensitive, making them capable of measuring the weight on the road. If a tree is down, or an animal is on the road, the solar panels can flash a message (such as SLOW) so that drivers know to take caution.
  2. Heat: The roadways feature small heaters designed to raise the temperature of the road surface to above freezing. This will eliminate any ice and snow buildup on the road. In fact, on the company’s Facebook page, they made reference to how their panels could prevent airplanes from sliding off icy runways as well.
    Usually, heated driveways cost homeowners an arm and a leg. But the energy to heat these roadways would come, of course, from solar power.
    The melted snow and ice would then be collected on one side of the road, where it can be processed to be used as clean water.
  3. Wi-Fi: While one side of the road would be used to collect water runoff, the other side would feature Wi-Fi hotspots and fiber optic communication cables, so that drivers will always have access to the Internet.
  4. Underground power lines: These solar powered roadways would eliminate the need for traditional aboveground power lines. Aboveground power lines aren’t just unsightly, but they’re unreliable. Storms can knock down cables and poles, but underground power lines remain intact.
  5. No more excessive roadwork: If solar panels replaced asphalt, there’d no longer be the need for excessive roadwork. Each panel is easy to replace and repair (think of replacing just one square of carpet tile).

The benefits of a solar powered roadway system

If the 28,000 square miles of paved surface area in the US were covered with solar panels with just 15% efficiency (which is far less that what is capable), we would produce 3x the power that the country needs to run itself. What this means is we could enjoy total energy independence, because of our roads.

But that independence comes at a price. Redesigning the country’s road systems (and parking lots) would be an enormous investment for both governments and businesses. However, as much of an investment it is at the start, these solar powered roads can become unique revenue producing assets over time. The belief is that the solar power generated by these panels would more than pay for any upfront costs over time.

The Brusaws’ next big test is to bring their innovation into the public spotlight, and demonstrate how their solar powered roadways hold up under the abuse of traffic, weather and more. Time will tell if this is, in fact, an innovation that will reshape the globe.