All of us are familiar with how hot an asphalt pavement can become when the sun is shining especially in the summer. What if we were able to harness all that energy on every road and parking lot throughout the world? As it happens, an out-of-the-box endeavor is currently underway to do just that by altering today’s pavement to incorporate solar panels with embedded LED signage to form a comprehensive smart power grid. The concept has some extremely intriguing possibilities but is also fraught with seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
Idaho-based startup Solar Roadway, Inc. is wrapping up an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign raising nearly $2M in funds (helped by a timely Tweet from Star Trek’s George Takei) to move its hexagonally-shaped solar road panels from prototype to production. The funds are primarily earmarked to get a variety of experts to “tweak” the product and the processes to viably mass produce the panels.
Solar Roadways initially began in 2009 with a $100,000 Phase 1 SBIR grant from the Department of Transportation to develop intelligent pavement that would generate power. After successful demonstration of a 12’ x 36’ parking lot, they then received a $750k Phase 2 SBIR grant from the Department of Energy in 2011 to further their development. They began their current crowdfunding campaign in April of this year.
The technology involves panels that each consist of an array of solar cells, LED’s, and microprocessor-based electronics (with robust lightning protection, of course) to enable them to generate power and provide real-time signage of traffic notifications. A ½” thick textured covering made largely from recycled glass protects the inner workings and helps make the panels capable of withstanding loads of 250,000 lbs. Internal heating also keeps the panels clear of ice and snow in the winter. The panels can be configured as a power grid that transmits power to homes and businesses while providing redundancy in the event any one line is interrupted. Further engineering could even enable the road to wirelessly charge electric cars as they travel. This technology, known as electromagnetic induction, is independently also under development.
Chief among the major hurdles to overcome will certainly be cost (even though asphalt has increased nearly 600% since 2007). The inventors are banking on the road paying for itself over the purported 20 year life-span of the panels. Hopefully, an earthquake doesn’t interrupt its serviceable life. Another hurdle will be installing these panels over winding roads. The panels are intentionally hexagonal (despite the solar cells being square) to help alleviate installation difficulties over hills and curves. Optimizing the power from the sun as it moves across the sky is obviously out the window. Another interesting hurdle may be the noise as tires roll over the many seams between panels; especially if driving uber quiet electric cars. Of course, there is no shortage of additional criticisms on the concept throughout the internet. However, who knows which seemingly outrageous idea might make it and someone has to attempt them if we want to find the next winning revolution. If not, how would motors have ever become attached to carriages?
NextGenCar.com will certainly be tracking these developments as they unfold. For other facts and information, Solar Roadway has a pretty extensive FAQ list found at Solar Roadway’s FAQs and the video used in their crowdfunding campaign can be seen on YouTube.