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You could one day be driving on a solar-powered smart streets

Lucas Mearian | May 28, 2014
Imagine a road that gets power from the sun, can melt snow and ice and generates energy.

Solar Roadways
The panels are made up of four layers (Image: Solar Roadways).

Brusaw believes that today's asphalt roadways, which are petroleum-based, will become too expensive in the future.

"I don't believe we're going to have the ability to build asphalt roads in 50 years. What we're proposing is a road that pays for itself over its lifespan - not only pays for itself, but provide a whole slew of new features," Brusaw said.

More than enough power?
Each solar panel produces DC power, which is converted by embedded micro-inverters into 240 volts AC.

Brusaw estimates that there are currently 31,000 square miles of asphalt and concrete surfaces exposed to the sun in the continental U.S. His company's Solar Road Panels could replace highways and byways as well as sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. "Solar road panels will collect that energy, turn the sunlight into electricity and feed the grid. If it's a business parking lot, you're feeding the building," Brusaw said.

Solar Roadways
The Solar Panels are able to resist up to 250,000 pounds (Image: Solar Roadways).

The solar cells have an 18.5% efficiency rating, the same as photovoltaic cells produced by industry-leading installers such as SunPower Corp.

By Solar Roadways own calculations, if all the hard-packed surfaces most conducive to solar collection were covered in the panels, the collective entire grid could product 13.3 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy. In comparison, in 2012, the U.S. used 3.8 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity according to the Energy Information Administration.

Solar Roadways
The Solar Road Panels have embedded heat strips that would melt snow and ice in the winter (Image: Solar Roadways).

Brusaw, who's been visited by utility companies to discuss power grid configurations, imagines a "cable corridor" or underground conduit that would replace existing above-ground power lines.

"Currently, our prototype parking lot feeds that energy into our load center and we use the power in our building. Since the energy produced by our panels is used locally, the need for long-distance transmission lines (and their transformers) diminishes," Brusaw wrote in an email to Computerworld. "We'd slowly turn our infrastructure to a decentralized power grid, where the bulk of the power would be used close to where it is generated."

The solar panel's internal electronic connectors are hermetically sealed, Brusaw said, and external connectors would be protected in weather-proof material and filled with "an anti-corrosion gel," Brusaw said.

Embedded LED lighting in the panels would mark roadway lane divisions and other traffic indicators and a heating element in the surface (like the defrosting wire in the rear window of a car) would prevent the build up of snow/ice accumulation in northern climates. That means no more plows or road salt.

 

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