An American couple has raised over $1 million in crowd funding donations to build a revolutionary solar-powered road paving system. Designed to be installed on literally any surface under the sun, the interlocking hexagonal glass panels have been tested for impact, load and traction.
Scott and Julie Brusaw have spent eight years developing the solar road panels to be used on roads, car parks, drives, pavements, cycle lanes or playgrounds. According to the couple, rolling out the project to a grand scale could generate three times the energy the US uses in a year and reduce greenhouse emissions by 75%.
“I thought that if they made real roads electric, then us kids could drive,” recalls Brusaw in an interview with CNN. Now an electrical engineer, he admits “That thought stuck with me my entire life.” Fast forward to the mid-2000s and Brusaw’s childlike conception is becoming a reality. The Idaho-based couple were granted their first government contract to work on the project in 2009, and have been perfecting it ever since.
Embedded within the panels are photovoltaic cells that harvest the power of the sun. They can withstand the weights of articulated lorries and contain heating elements to prevent ice settling. Internal LEDs also function to display road signage.
In the long term, solar roadways would provide ice, snow and pothole free illuminated roads. Roads and pavements would never have to be repainted, thanks to LED lights in each panel. If a panel malfunctions, it’s simply swapped for another. Each panel is also monitored, so maintenance workers will be notified immediately of any functional disturbances.
The panels can even be hooked up to homes and businesses to generate energy via driveways and car parks. The energy created runs down roadside ‘cable corridors,’ eliminating the need for power lines. The pressure sensitive panels also have the power to warn drivers to slow down when an animal or obstruction is detected in the road ahead. Best of all, the panels can be laid over existing asphalt. Did we mention they look awesome?
“One of the biggest benefits is that the new system can serve as a hub for all green energy technologies because it’s not vulnerable to disruption the way the centralized grids are,” Julie Brusaw told the Washington Post. “It’s a perfect way to create an energy-producing ‘Smart Grid’ while also modernizing our antiquated highway system at the same time.”
A bringing together of existing technologies, solar roadways can provide cheap aid to developing countries and keep plug-in electric cars running. A small prototype has been built as part of a contract with the Federal Highways Agency and is already generating electricity. Tests have also shown that the textured glass surface of the panels can slow down and stop a car travelling at 80mph on a wet surface.
Another perk is the huge boost in jobs for infrastructure, maintenance, installation and operation of the solar roadways. The concept has won awards and nominations from GE, the World Technology Award, Google and the IEEE Ace Awards. Scott Brusaw has even spoken at NASA, and Google’s Solve for X.
Sam Travers is an eco-warrior of sorts. He works for a green charity and blogs regularly with help and advice for those looking to make the planet a better place.