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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.

Also, because the panels are heated, there would be no damage from frost heaves.

"Roads won't experience the freeze-thaw cycle," he said. "The Federal Highway Administration contracted with us to design a road system that could pay for itself over time. State DOTs no longer have the money to maintain the current road system."

While roads get dirty, Brusaw said they discovered through experimentation, even an extremely dirty panel only produced 9% less energy than a clean panel. "And that would only be temporary - until it rained or a good wind picked up," he said.

In keeping with the Brusaws' commitment to sustainable practices, current roadways and parking lots would not be ripped up and replaced, but used as a base for the new modular panels where possible.

Solar Roadways
Interstate highways would be lit at night from beneath (Image: Solar Roadways).

Speed bumps on the road to deployment
Tom Leyden, who has worked in the solar power industry for 25 years and is currently CEO of photovoltaic battery maker Solar Grid Storage, said Solar Roadways' technology appears viable, but he questioned whether it's too costly.

"I don't think this is the cost-effective solution people are looking for at this point," Leyden said. "There are other more cost effective ways to deploy solar."

Leyden, who was formerly vice president of project development at SolarCity, one of the nation's largest solar-cell manufacturers, said the focus in the solar industry today is less on technology and more on reducing cost to capital, or beating the cost of electricity from utilities through solar panel installation.

Last year, solar power was second only to natural gas in generating new electricity in the U.S., so the market is evolving, Leyden said. Over the last decade, solar power installations averaged 66% growth annually.

"There have been many fringe ideas out there," he said. "In Europe, they looked at solar sound barriers along highways. We've considered putting solar cells in space, where you get higher efficiency. All those ideas could be doable technically, but it's a matter of how do you get these projects financed."

Brusaw argued that comparing the cost of an asphalt street to a Solar Roadway is an apples to "fruit basket" comparison.

For an accurate cost comparison between current systems and the Solar Roadways system, you'd have to combine the costs of current roads — including snow removal, line repainting, pothole repair, etc.

You'd also have to consider power plants and the coal and nuclear material used to power them, as well as the power poles and relay stations required to transmit the power. As Brusaw notes on his website, the "Solar Roadway system... provides all three."

 

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