Are roads, parking lots and driveways covered with solar panels that feed power back into the grid actually feasible, or does it sound like a green-dream? A video on YouTube titled “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” has captured the imagination of the Internet, but imagination and reality are often far apart.
Eight years ago, electrical engineer Scott Brusaw and his wife, Julie, set out to show that updating our traveling infrastructure with renewable energy is possible. Now, they’re on the precipice of releasing their prototype for Solar Roadways, a system that could replace asphalt, giving roads an energy-production purpose.
With built-in light-emitting diodes (LEDs), materials sturdy enough for heavy-duty vehicles and heat that would prevent the buildup of snow and ice, Solar Roadways is a highly ambitious project. However, the Brusaws have believers in the federal government and have received two phases of funding from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration for research and development.
“Half of our prototype parking lot is monocrystalline, while the other half is poly-crystalline,” Julie Brusaw said. “The parking lot is equivalent to a 3,600-watt solar array. The power collected is dependent upon the amount of sunshine received. So, as with all solar, it will produce more in some parts of the country and world than others.”
The prototype parking lot is at the couple’s electronics lab in Idaho. Textured glass covers the solar panels and circuitry, and they say the lot is operational.
At civil engineering laboratories around the country, Solar Roadways’ glass exceeded all requirements during rounds of testing for traction, load and impact-resistance.
Critics cite numerous practical objections, including the high manufacturing costs of solar modules, enormous costs for road construction, new electric transmission systems, wear endurance, safety and maintenance. For example, the United States has approximately 25,000 square miles of road surface. The glass cost alone to cover that area would be $20 trillion dollars, 10 times the size of the annual federal budget. That’s not accounting for the costs to manufacture and install the solar panels, transmit power or maintain a complex electrical infrastructure.
Challenges abound for making solar pavement a reality and even small commercial installations may be decades away, but the concept captures the imagination, and it is left to innovators like the Brusaws to carry dreams like this forward.