Solar power has truly hit the mainstream – jackets, vehicles, electronics, etc., everything can be solar powered. So how about roads? What if we can use the space to generate electricity to reduce the use of fossil fuels? Isn’t it a perfect combination?
Indeed, solar panel road is no longer a concept now – the idea has already been realized by an Idaho-based Company Solar Roadways and has finalized its plan with Missouri state official to test the panels on a 12-foot-by-20-foot area of the main sidewalk at the westbound Welcome Center. Let’s take a closer look at how it works!
Solar Roadways Background
Solar Roadways are founded by Julie and Scott Brusaw, a couple in in Idaho, US. In August 2009, the startup was awarded a Phase I SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) contract ($100,000) by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which was supposed to be used for gathering information from engineers of different fields and developed a concept paper that demonstrates the viability of creating a prototype that can satisfy some of the attributes described in the Solar Roadways website, including the durability, power-generating efficiency and material of the solar panels. Less than one year from receiving the grant, the Brusaws successfully built their first panels, a 12-foot by 12-foot (3.65 x 3.65 meter) array without solar cells, to test whether the underlying electronics would work.
Later in 2011, the Department of Transportation followed up its initial support with a 2-year $750,000 Phase IIB contract, during which a proof-of-concept “parking lot” was built with solar cells, LED lights, and a heating system built in. However, it is in 2014 the project first gained global attention through a viral promotional video “Solar FREAKIN roadways” on Indiegogo, which has been viewed more than 21 million times and helped raised $2.2 million in donations for further development of project. Now, the team has secured a third grant from the Department of Transportation and the project is ready to be tested out on small scale.
Benefits of Solar Roadways
The specially engineered solar panels can generate renewable energy on any surface that can be walked or driven on from highway to parking lot – excluding the power necessary for the normal function of microprocessors and supporting circuitry that are part of the solar panel system and the powers needed to illuminate a standard LED road line configuration, the glass hexagon panels can generate 302.506MWh of extra power per year per lane mile, which can be stored in a temporary storage apparatus or distributed to surrounding homes and businesses through the power grid. In addition, the panels contain heating elements that can warm up to keep roads free of snow and ice accumulation. The Cable Corridors that are running along the road can deposit snowmelt (or storm water) and transported it to a treatment facility and use it for irrigation or landscaping, etc.
A modern traffic management system can be created through the LED lights embedded in the solar panels. A series of LEDs can work together to display different words or signs in various road condition, such as warning drivers of wildlife, enhance visibility at night or create detours when there is an accident. The business owners will also benefit a lot from such intelligent panels of Solar Roadways. Simply by touching one bottom, the business owners will be able to change the parking configurations, add decorations for holidays or display logos or advertisement on the ground for promotional purpose.
Test Run Along Route 66
As part of its “Roadway to Tomorrow” initiative, Missouri’s Department of Transportation has announced its plan to install solar roadway panels on a small section of sidewalk at the iconic Route 66 Welcome Center off Interstate 44 in Conway, Mo. The initiative will make Missouri the first state in the nation to adopt such technology on a public right of way.
“We want to start kind of smaller and just be able to test the initial application and see how it installs,” said James Pflum, resident engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Kansas City District. “Right now, it’s kind of baby steps. It’s testing the
sidewalk and seeing what works and what opportunities we have and what questions we need to answer.” James also indicates that Missouri DOT is expecting to expand the project to parking lots and roadways in the future if the test run works great.
Solar Roadways in Europe
The use of solar panels for road surfacing is not only emerging in United States but also Europe. In 2015, the Netherlands built the world’s first solar road, a bike path from Amsterdam to its suburbs that captured the sun’s energy through tempered glass-covered solar panels. Since its opening in November, 2015, the 230-foot test bike path has produced 3,000 kWh of energy, which would be enough to power a small household for a year.
Recently, the French government also announced its plan to resurface 1000 kilometers of roads with solar panels in the next five years. The solar panels are developed by road-building company Colas in partnership with the French National Solar Energy Institute and the project is expected to furnish 5 million people in France with electricity (approximately 5 percent of the populations in France)
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