The road ahead is paved with photovoltaics. That's how Scott Brusaw sees it, anyway. His company, Solar Roadways, is embedding PV cells and LED lights into panels engineered to withstand the forces of traffic. The lights would allow for "smart" roadways and parking lots with changeable signage, while the cells would generate enough energy to power businesses, cities and, eventually, the entire country.
Each 12-by-12-foot Solar Roadway panel would produce about 7,600 watt-hours a day, based on an average of four hours of sunlight. At that rate, a one-mile stretch of four-lane highway could power about 500 homes. "If we could ever replace all the roads in the U.S., then, yeah, we would produce more electricity than we use as a nation," says Brusaw, an electrical engineer who completed his first prototype panel in February with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Brusaw's goal is to get the cost per panel under $10,000. That's roughly three times the cost of asphalt. But he wants to make panels that last three times longer than asphalt roads, which have to be resurfaced every 10 years in many places. "Then the cost is about the same," he says. "But that's just a break-even. We're also generating electricity."
The key to commercial viability will be the panels' glass. It must be textured for traction, embedded with heating elements for melting away ice and snow, and able to survive years of traffic. "The toughest is going to be that fast lane on the highway," Brusaw says, "where you've got a 40-ton truck, maybe with snow chains. It will have to be able to withstand all that." At the same time, it has to be self-cleaning if sunlight is to reach the PV cells; Brusaw points to experimental hydrophilic glass that uses sunlight to break down organic dirt, and rainwater to wash it away without streaking.
Next up for Solar Roadways will be qualifying for Phase II funding, a two-year, $750,000 deal to develop a commercial plan for the panels. At the end of those two years, Brusaw would like to be ready for testing in parking lots, which he sees as the perfect proving grounds for the lights and the power-generation system. Directional arrows and parking lines could be reconfigured to deal with busy times, and the electricity generated could feed adjacent businesses. "I talked to the guy in charge of power for Wal-Mart," Brusaw says. "Superstores are roughly 200,000 square feet, and parking lots are about four times that. I crunched the numbers for an 800,000-square-foot lot and told him how much power it could generate even if it was completely full of cars. It was 10 times the power they use."
Brusaw wants to start smaller, though—on the scale of, say, a fast-food restaurant. A McDonald's retrofitted with a solar parking lot could take itself largely or entirely off the grid or become a site for recharging electric vehicles (while the owners stopped inside for food, naturally). "Even the best electric cars have a range of about three hours," he explains. "But if all I have to do is find a McDonald's, I could drive from Idaho to the southern tip of Florida." Improbable? Yes. But "Billions of watts served" would be a cool new tagline.
Josh Dorfman is the author of The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide to Easy, Stylish Green Living
Visionary! Taking yesterdays elementary technology, and adressing tomorrows global eviremental challenges. Don't go to work for the govenment!
@ msareborn - I agree 100%.
What about piëzo electric elements built in to roads?
Producing energy from force changes as cars drive over the surface.
What if a combination is used? The piezo electric elements could be used on more congested roadways either alone or along with solar panels depending on costs, efficiency, and the demand for energy in the area, where as the solar panels alone could be used on less active roadways. The piezo electric elements may also be incorperated into the parking spots closer to large or widely used companies to create even more energy while eliminating the loss of solar energy due to parked cars.
Don't have to wait for paving -- just SHADE the parking spaces with photovoltaic cells NOW.
What happens when the rain washes the soil out from under these fancy solar road ways? Or a water main breaks? Solar panels function best when aimed at the sun. Solar panels providing shade on parking lots and roads would be a nice finishing touch. Now all we need is built in breathalysers to prevent DUI from knocking down the poles these solar panels are mounted on.
This concept has already been brought up by PopSci and was "heatedly discussed". I think the consensus by us lay people was that it was impractical.
The company claims that it will work as good as the optimal versions of each technology that they are adding into it, but combinations rarely work as well as the individual techs do alone.
To read the original article and comments go here: http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-08/solar-panels-built-roads-could-be-future-energy
Warning: There is a rather large amount of flaming in the comments, but if you get through the pointless comments there's a bit of decent discussion there.
There is a photovoltaic paint. The question would be, how long would it last under traffic? How much would it cost to replace it from time to time?
Is it slick, or would it allow a car to maintain traction?
If the numbers were right, we could start right away, without having to rebuild a lot of highways.
I don’t want to sound too skeptic, but:
Did the energy calculation take into account the fact that the cars block the light?
And that one of the moments of max traffic is noon?
Wouldn’t a thermal or as other commenter suggest a piezoelectric option be better?
Selfpowered nanite based computronium will render these points mute, but there isnt anything like that in the horizon yet.
I havent made any postings on this forum since this topic was first raised. I have seen numerous other well intentioned 'solutions', none of which are viable and some of which are downright snake oil.
Huge amounts of money continue to the thrown at follies, private and public. To my mind the focus is in completely the wrong direction but there isnt a big pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
The focus should be on lowering consumption and the efficiency of anything that uses electricty. This isnt sexy so doesnt make headlines or grab peoples imaginations.
I am aware that there are quite a few young minds here and the ability to tear apart a concept is almost as important as coming up with something that has merit. The latter requires luck or knowledge but the former always requires knowledge if the person is to be taken seriously.
One of the first things to establish (and it seldom is) is the ratio between 'work available' and 'work done'. In the case of solar energy it is how much is available, 24/7/365 and how much is converted. When the input is available in almost unlimited amounts the conversion ratio isnt too important except that it impacts on the size and ultimately the cost. There are bench marks that can be used to compare which is the price we pay for 1 unit of electricity.
(1KWH) This is about 10 pence in the UK or about 10 cents in the USA.
If the numbers for solar panel roads were crunched properly the cost to the consumer per unit of electricity could be 10 or 20 times the benchmark. Now it doesnt seem such a good idea and the reality is that it isnt !
Same goes for piezo. Its conversion ratio is less than 1%. Taking energy from a moving car which has a highly efficient engine then conveting it to electricity via piezos is not the smartest idea. The unit cost could easily be 100 times the benchmark.
It is almost impossible to get real data from the crowd who are into wave/tidal generators. I wonder why that is ? could it possibly be that the figures simply dont stack up ?
The data that is available from the bird slicing crowd shows just how expensive their production method is. We have wind farms springing up all over the UK. NOT ONE is capable of making a profit or competing with the benchmark.
They are not even close. They exist ONLY because UK taxpayers subsidise them. Land owners are rubbing their hands with glee. They are making millions and millions.
Now if the focus was on reducing consumption and increasing efficiency the picture could be transformed.
Robert M. Smith, MD, PhD
That's what I like. People that are supportive of a new idea, even if it wasn't theirs. All of you "nay sayers" make me sick. Get the hell out of the way and let some inovators go to work.
John: You did nothing but spew alot of garbage and ten dollar words without making a single FACTUAL point. Have you even reviewed their numbers on their website. Evidently not. Oh, and what exactly ARE your credentials anyway? Reduce consumption?? Really?? Have you checked census figures lately? How many coal fired computers have you run across. The last time consumption of anything in this world decreased was after the great plague.
If you can all get past this "I", "MY" thing and appreciate a good idea for what it is, this is potentially revolutionary and something that should have been thought of years ago.
Why not jump onboard and try to HELP this concept and others that can help our planet. That's certainly better than sittin' on your ass behind a desk saying "That's not possible. We already have more than enough people who do nothing but criticize. What we really need are people who think out of the box and make it work. Be different. Be CREative.
I take it you have read a book.
MD AND Phd, yet your grasp of fundamental physics is about nil.
Assuming you can read and perhaps once in a while comprehend what it is you have read, it may be a good idea to read again what I posted.
If you are happy to put your name and qualifications, expertise etc behind backing something so fundamentaly flawed, then good luck to you.
If you care to go back to the first time this concept was mooted and read all the reasons why it is a complete and utter waste of time, effort and money, you may perhaps realise that your assumptions about my ability, knowledge, expertise and experience will need to be modified.
There are concepts that have merit. This isnt one of them. It isnt even close.
Okay, first of all the article stated that there will be a surplus of energy, rendering the already calculated problem of traffic blocking the sun irrevelant. Second, as anyone in the market for solar energy knows, solar panels could get expensive but are capable of eventually paying for themselves. Remember, this is a long term effort (if it ever becomes an effort) and, like the creating of asphalt roads, will take a long time to complete. As suggested in the article, it could start on a small scale. First incorperate this concept into a small parking lot such as that of a fast food resteraunt. If the company (along with small neiboring facilities taking advantage of the extra energy) is willing, it could donate its savings to add to the profit of the company selling and installing the solar panels. This money could then go into the creation of similar solar panel parking lot jobs and will continue to add up. Eventually, enough money would be saved to apply this idea to a small road. Because the roads receive more sunlight than the average popular parking lot, savings will multiply at an even greater rate. This process could be continued for as long as needed and/or wanted. Although it is unlikely this concept will be persued, it is something that WILL reduce consumsion, reduce emmittions (polution), and offer a more efficient way to power our cities, buisnesses, homes, etc.
Your conclusions are totally wrong.
The concept is childish.
It will not reduce comsumption, it will not reduce emmisions and it is not a more efficient way of providing electricity.
It is however a very simple way of getting those who play the odds to open their wallets and give money to pipe dreams and follies. When this money comes from taxpayers it is a whole different ball game.
If you stop and think about the maths for a minute:
You believe that such a silly concept could pay for itself 'over time', however you have not factored in all the HUGE costs that are also involved 'over time'.
Little things like the cost and maintenance of the distribution system. The cost and maintenance of the 'conditioning' required to covert the irregular DC output to AC or all the costs involved in storing the output.
Take the above then add the wear and tear on the road surface, that teenie little fact that it will be like a skating rink with virtually zero grip. The cost of resurfacing ( and like any surface it HAS to wear and decay)
Freeze and thaw action.
Technology becomes 100% obsolete
Company that milked the investors goes out of business (highly probable.)
The snippets Ive pointed out this time and the first time around do NOT appear in the meaningless marketing blurb and press releases. THAT always pricks my attention.
Where there is hype there is ALWAYS fundamental dishonesty at work.
Good concepts are worthy of close inspection and scrutiny. Bad ones are not and this one is a real stinker.
There are many others that are still getting substantial funding, far more than this example of snake oil, that I can detail.
For the younger readers here there is something that you have probably not been taught at school. I certainly wasnt 40 years + ago: Mathematics was INVENTED. It does NOT exist naturally. Mathematics is a TOOL that helps us understand things and it is NOT perfect. It is however VERY good indeed for making reasonable judgements. It falls down however on even some simple tasks like expressing Pi.
In a lot of physics, the ability to calculate something to the Nth degree is not important or critical but in other bits of physics it is.
Generating electricty is very simple and the underlying physics has been known for well over a century. There are no hidden secrets waiting to be discovered; there is nothing magic about it and we dont need to do sums accurate to 100 decimal places.
The chemistry and to perhaps a greater degree the biology surrounding electricity still have many discoveries yet to be uncovered but stuff like photo voltaic are close to maturity. How can I make such a sweeping statement ? The answer is simple. I didnt do the maths, but the pioneers did. There is always a theoritcal and finite limit to the development of any technology. PV panels are very close to that. At best they might get say 5% more efficient and that leaves them way behind other technologies.
Solar energy has its place but it is not beneath or part of a road surface.
A few words of wisdom for Mr. Scott Brusaw:
There is space between the tracks of railroad lines. Nothing makes contact with this surface that is exposed to the sun.
If this space is not covered by snow, you can get 8 or more hours of sunlight on a sunny day. Talk to the railroads and do this easy project first. Many electric trains could be using the power generated between all the tracks. Making a panel that generates electricity and defrost itself and can withstand truck tire chains is hard. One you generate electricity between the tracks, using that electricity to defrost the tracks is easier. PRPaul1: “generatorblue” channel on Youtube.
I'm confused why the guy is shooting for the moon right away..
If you're trying to get your new idea/tech out there why not start small? He's talking about doing that via starting with restaurant parking lots instead of roads, but then why still go for a design capable of handling Colorado winter mountain traffic right away?
Start with a version that can handle the weather in AR,AL,FL, etc, and if it proves to be a viable product, then try making the self-defrosting-Semi-on-snow-chains-worthy version.
Robert M. Smith, MD, PhD
If I have learned anything in the professional community it is that most of us are happy, if not eager, to present the credentials we've worked so hard to obtain. I've also found that those that are reluctant to produce them usually don't have any. I've read many books, John, and my grasp of physics is fine. My assumptions about your ability, knowledge, expertise and experience,as you put it, are in your mind, I simply made a reasonable request concerning your credentials and you still persist with your inane diatribe and arrogant hyperbole. So, I must conclude that you are actually a 13 year old nerd with way too much time on your hands who wants to, but can't quite "play with the big boys". Wisdom, John, comes from the pursuit of knowledge. Once you think you've found it you become a fool. When scientists believe there is nothing new to be discovered or that they know everything that is the day we return to the Stone Age. Grow up!
I dont bother to post the letters after my name. As I have found in my professional career which is probably a great deal longer than yours, letters and titles are meaningless.
However, just o that you know that I am not some 13 year old but actually someone who does know his onions, please feel free to 'Google' my name : John Charnley. or Google 'Cintor'. For fun please Google 'Sheppard & Charnley'.
You will find rather a lot of patents. There are several that you wont. This is because that last 12 havent been published yet.
You will note that two relate directly to improved efficiency as well as generating electricity. You will also note that many of the applications are medical.
Now if you care to stick you neck out and tell me, using physics, why I am incorrect we can have a debate but until such times as you are willing to post something that shows me that you know your onions we can go around in circles.
BTW, Im 54 years old.
Disregarding all the bitching going on. If the product meets the specifications touted in the article, being 3 times the cost of asphalt but lasting 3 times as long, being self cleaning & as grippy as asphalt. The distribution systems can be paid for by the power generated. Then the idea is sound and solves the issue of where to put solar generation plants.
Nevertheless it would see to be a long way off and possibly not the best way to be spending money right now.
It might be a good idea also to accept that electricity is not going to stay the same price as it is now.
John, I think you need to read this article over again and rethink what you are saying. As pointed out by cjeam, the roads would not be as slick as a skating rink and they will actually last three times as long as asphalt. This makes the cost a lot less than you thought it would be. The repairing of these roads will of coarse be much more expensive than that of an asphalt road, but with a great surplus of energy comes MORE MONEY! Less of our money will go towards providing schools, police stations, or government properties with energy and there will be more available to help pay for repairs on the road. And if this concept does actually become a reallity, there will be a dramatic drop in the burning of fossil fuels. It would simply not be needed. You know what that means? LESS CONSUMPTION and LESS EMMISIONS! I'll let you decide if it's more efficient. I do admit (and I thought I already did) that the actual persuit of a concept so far fetched as this is extremely unlikely. Just by looking at the covers of the early magazines available in the archives, we see that many visionaries in the past came up with facinating new ideas for the future that never came to be. This is most likely one of those situations.
On a personal note, I am very interested in reviewing the patents you mentioned. Most of the results from my search dealt with a long deceased famous British inventor in the medical field. Please trust that I have not developed any hard feelings towards you during this discussion and that I will not bring your patents or career into it.
The problems aways start from a position or posture.
Someone has what they think is a bright idea and they hit a brick wall because no one is beating a path to their do like they think they should. So they go into a huddle with advisers and come up with a plan.
That plan is then presented and there aremore than enough fools who think they are onto a killing. An very topical example of that is the floating of Tesla Motors today. They have raised 200+ million for a product that has never made one penny and I doubt ever will. Im old enough to remember the farce over DeLorean.
The fact that the article claims the road surface will be the best thing since sliced bread does not mean that it will be. Not one cubic inch has been produced thus far.
It is pure folly.
When I was a lot younger I came up with loads of ideas I thought were sure winners. A couple were and I was very lucky that I was taken out of the loop early by my parents.
Over the years I have learned that unless you are very, very lucky, there isnt a path that can be followed that assures success. There are paths that should not be followed and ones that MAY lead somewhere but you dont ever know in advance where they will end up. Fools believe they can see where others cannot and some believe in fools.
I got caught out today because I made a judgement call based on a photo that appeared to show something that turned out not to be true. Had I studied the next photo taken from a slightly different angle I would have seen that I had called it wrong. I screwed up and have had to eat a lot of humble pie. I forgot and ignored all my experience, knowledge and training.
Most people make snap judgements, just as I did earlier today, then they 'test' their desicion to see if they have made the right one. if they believe they have they will defend their belief, despite the fact that they could well be wrong.
When this occurs any possibilty of rational debate goes out of the window. There are probably hundreds of valid reasons I could detail as to why the concept mooted in this thread is flawed but there is no point as the recipients have already made up their own closed minds that the concept has merit.
On a scale of 1 to 100 I would give it 1.
Now if someone said what about putting PV panels at an angle facing the sun and tracking it, all together on the side of a hill in the middle of a desert where we dont have to worry about trucks and cars and buses etc running all over it, where we can collect all the energy in one place, store it far more efficiently and distribute at far lower cost, where the capital outlay is far less as well as maintenance,I might give that 2 out of 100.
About I year ago the above was mooted on a massive scale in the Sahara desert. Billions were required to set things up. The concept was floated with a big fanfare and lots of media coverage and investors standing by. I wonder how come that folly isnt being built with all haste ??:)
Forget or ignore the fundamentals at your peril !
Everyone forgets that the is a second type of solar power that is not photo-voltaic, this type uses the sun to power a engine using gases.(Sterling Engine)
This type of solar has few moving parts and should have a longer life span than conventional solar collecters.
The cost to convert and deliver the power created should be relatively small due to the fact that if a converter is built directly into the panel all they have to do is pop the unit out of the ground and switch them and what lies near the road power lines and they can feed directly into them with relative ease.
Wear and tear can be dealt with simply by putting a clear protective coat like Plexiglas that can be stamped so that it has the same or greater traction than asphalt so instead of changing the whole panels change the cover reducing the maintenance cost to near what asphalt is so that the PV cells only need to be replace when they have reached the point where they are not longer efficient and the price/output of a new PV-cell is great enough for them to replace the cells.
And to Robert M. Smith, MD, PhD just because you spent 10 years in a dorm room doesn't mean you can criticize the youth of america or not so youth
It isnt going to fly.
About 2 weeks ago Pres O announced I think it was $2 billions of funding to create a large solar farm in Arizona. I only scanned the news item but the important bits are 1: It is totally uneconomic to generate electricity this way without MASSIVE funding from taxpayers (or foolish investors who think they might make a killing down the road) 2) the costs associated with constructing and servicing are a fraction of what it would cost to develop a solar road thus making the basic concept even more unlikely.
Last year about this time I was driven from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. I saw the biggest wind turbines I had even seen and mile after mile of baking hot desert.
I can see some merit in a large scale solar array close to LV but even if that happens, the true cost of the electricity produced is several times more than conventional means and that is the circle that cannot be squared.
Conditioning the irregular DC output of a solar panel to 'smoothed' AC on a large scale is very expensive. In theory it is very simple but not so in reality. Unless all the panels are in close proximity the losses become prohibitive.
Using solar reflectors to focus the sun's energy onto water which then boils and drives a turbine is massively more efficient and cost effective but even so, there are only a couple of places on earth where this would stand any chance and would not be viable without tax payer support.
In essence, there isnt ONE 'green' renewable energy source that passes muster. Wont stop people from trying,wont stop fools from losing their shirts and it certainly wont stop governments wasting tax payers money.
The only real viable solutions there is are those that are currently in use. Unless we all want to really pay through the nose that is the way it will stay.
It is far easier for a government to tax and subsidise because we dont notice it coming out of our bank account. When we have to pay on the nail, then we notice and in the US there is hell to pay if petrol goes about $3.00 a gallon. In the UK it is $8.00. Same stuff and same cost price, the difference is TAX.
There will come a point in time when say petrol costs $50.00 a gallon. That would then be the time to blow the dust off concepts such as solar roads but in the meantime, it isnt going to happen.
And it would be interesting to see how it copes with a road crew with pneumatic drills and a pipe to lay across its route.
I wonder if that sort of secondary maintenance cost has been considered, having to dig under the thing to lay or access such utilities.
This will never come to fruition because of a few reasons. The loads that the road will have to take are enormous and I don't think that the cells under the clear material will be able to function correctly. The clear material that has to be used will have to be thick and rough, with the rough factor only increasing with each vehicle, with the material becoming more rough, this will decrease the efficiency of the cells a lot. As for the the roadbed, if someone could figure out how to stop the settling factors for Yazoo clay that is so often found in the southern states, this will never come down south. The force on the 12x12 panels would be a distributed force over an even larger area on the soil so that's a plus against settlement as asphalt would create more of a concentrated force, but the seams would introduce an area for water to enter the equation, I don't care how good the seal is its not gonna keep water out and totally prevent erosion of the sub-layers. Maintenance costs would be astronomical keeping the panels at an efficient level, plus electrical surges like maybe a lightening strike wouldn't be too fun to deal with.
A Civil Engineer
up here in the northern midwest where the temperatures range from 100f in the summer and -20f in the winter, with plenty of percipitation all year round, i have a hard time seeing how these panels could last 30 years. even brand new roads and parking lots need to be repaired at least once a year with full resurfacing alot more often than every 10 years.
its not the traffic so much as the freeze and thaw, hot and cold that does them in. they crack and break and are just in general a mess to drive on. i just don't see these panels as an option anywhere that has a climate like this. it might work where its warm and dry down south, but i think a winter in Iowa would break these ten grand panels pretty quick.
@ukelite You are very long winded my friend. I thought I had a problem with writing posts that were too long. I get it though, you don't think this tech is practical. You don't have to be so negative about it. I hope you realize that in the next five years solar tech will finally be able to produce energy for less money then coal and natural gas which will make it realistically competitive on the market by it's own merits. No subsidies necessary.
Calling these ideas childish is like calling desalinization plants childish. It just doesn't make sense. And before you go making any accusations I'll just tell you. I have have no phd or any relevant credentials to speak of. I have however, been studying advancements in technology and their applications since I was a child. It's a hobby.
So now for my opinion ^.^ I think solar roads are currently impractical but we are making strides in the reduction of costs in these areas. So it is likely that by the time tests and revisions of this tech are completed, lets say in, 8-10 years it could very well be cost effective. At the same time I think the private market and many industries will be investing heavily into solar (since it will be more cost effective at this time) and solar roads still won't be needed. Regardless I think this is a good idea.
I tried to read every comment on here carefully and fully, and there are a lot of good points on both sides. I know UKELITE believes this is a waste of money, but there are plenty of projects that require venture capitalists and government subsidies to get started.
I know I appear naive, but just because it costs more doesn't mean it's a bad idea. I believe this is just being put forward as a green technology, aka environmentally friendly. Of course since we live in capitalist countries, they are trying to sell it using money as the motivator. However, I don't think that's why we should be considering it.
Due to all the reasons stated above, I don't ever see this being applied on a road surface. Too much movement, fluctuating conditions per weather and dynamic loads would most likely render this negative in money and therefore wouldn't be implemented. I do think this can be used in a parking lot though, and if it doesn't pass the load bearing or traction or cleanliness tests, I think a roof over top a large parking lot isn't a terrible idea, especially since you could then incline them based on your latitude. I'll specify, this would not be done purely for economic reasons. It's using the area for dual purpose to help reduce dependency on fossil fuels while possibly (as mentioned in the article, but perhaps even further off) providing charging stations for electric cars of the future.
Much of what I've said may be torn apart by UKELITE or others, but I think projects like this warrant investigation through research.
And specifically to UKELITE, I'm sure there were naysayers about patents you've tried, which required research on your part to develop and submit, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have tried. That's how I (and I believe many others in the US) feel about projects like this. Thank you for your well stated arguments though, generates good conversation (for the most part). I do wish you'd flame less.
Wow...what a lot of ummm....stuff.
Anyway I like the idea of the parking lot. Commercial lots can be cleaned easily unlike your average highway. The railroad idea is great. What about all those rail cars - the roofs of which are always available and rarely if ever in contact with anything but the elements. Railways have been a bit of a safe haven for communication equipment. Energy makes sense. that's a good idea.