Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Solar Roadways: Science Fiction Becoming Reality

Solar roads are entering a new test phase that will see them installed along a portion of the iconic route 66. Solar Roadways is the brainchild of Scott and Julie Brusaw of Idaho.  It all started ten years ago when Scott, an electrical engineer and his wife Julie began to imagine how solar panels could be embedded into the road. The concept eventually incorporated LEDs that could illuminate highways, and replace road lines. These solar panels can also be heated enabling them to melt snow and ice. The panels used in olar roadways are made out of recycled glass and in addition to collecting renewable energy, the panels can even redistribute storm water.

When it was first introduced the idea of embedding smart solar panels in our roadways seemed more fiction than science. It nonetheless captured people's imagination and a video called "Solar Freakin Roadways" went viral garnering over 21 million views.

Solar Roadways crowd-funding efforts raised $2.2 million to help accelerate the leap into commercial production. The project has also secured some high profile recognition when it won first prize in two of GE's Ecomagination challenges.

The US Federal Highway Administration funded the first working prototype. Solar roadways has received three funding contracts from the US Department of Transportation.

The concept has already been tested in an operational parking lot setup. By the end of this year Missouri’s Department of Transportation is expected to test the project at a rest stop. In April, the Idaho Department of Commerce committed $50,000 for a Solar Roadways demonstration project and crowdfunding campaign.

This technology may seem fantastic but it is an extension of existent technological innovations. Solar carports are a good example and they are popping up everywhere including in the US. There is a solar carport system at a Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn, New York. Recently completed solar carports in the US include one at Toyota's facility in West Caldwell, New Jersey and another at the Buck Institute in California.

Europe is also experimenting with solar roads and electrified highways. In the Netherlands SolaRoad has been operational since November 2014 and the French government wants to build 600 miles of solar roads over the next five years. Sweden has already built the world's first electric highway for heavy transport. Electric trucks can now get power along a 13 mile stretch of road between Norway and Sweden thanks to overhead power line technology developed by Siemens.

A Response to Critics of the Solar Roadways Concept
Solar Roadways Innovative Sun Powered Technology and Finance
Video - Solar Roadways Crowdfunding
Video - Solar Roadways: The Concept Explained
Video: An Introduction to Solar Roadways

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