Are solar roadways a viable path to green energy?

Solar Roadways brings green energy production to highways. But do the costs outweigh the benefits?

 

The crowdsourcing campaign's mission aims to pave highways with solar panels. Credit: Solar Roadways

The crowdsourcing campaign’s mission aims to pave highways with solar panels. Credit: Solar Roadways

Alternative production has long been a hallmark of both domestic and international energy policy. Electricity production in the United States has tried to meet these standards of renewable energy but has yet to make a major dent. According to the federal U.S. Energy Information Administration, a whopping 67 percent of our electricity comes from fossil fuel sources, including 39 percent from coal. Conversely, renewable energy makes up a measly 13 percent, with hydropower taking the major lead.

These figures have not stopped innovators, startups and entrepreneurs from throwing their collective know-how behind the quest to find the best technology to bring renewable energies to the forefront.

One of the most promising methods of harnessing clean, renewable energy is from the sun, a nearly endless supply of light and heat. Photovoltaic cells used to transform the sunlight that tans us into usable electricity have been around for a while — and they are starting to catch on.

In all of this excitement, one startup is using an innovative approach to flipping the statistics and harnessing solar energy by taking advantage of the vast highways that criss-cross this country.

Road tripping on solar panels

Solar Roadways is a crowdsourced tech startup run by a husband-and-wife dynamic duo. Since beginning its Indigo campaign on June 20, Solar Roadway received more than double its goal of $1 million. With $2.2 million in their pockets, Scott and Julie Brusaw want to repave the green technology landscape, literally.

Its method is actually pretty common, with many businesses and homeowners choosing to use free space for solar panels and energy production. The magic is in the specially designed solar panels designed to pave our highways and parking lots instead of asphalt.

Each panel is designed as a hexagon with four distinct layers: a glass surface meant to withstand up to 250,000 pounds of pressure, LED lights, an electronic support center and a base layer of recycled material.

The crowdsourcing campaign’s mission was to pave the highways with these panels. “We can produce three times more power than we use as a nation,” Scott Brusaw told Crowdfund Insider. “That will eliminate the need for coal-fired power plants.”

Safety is also taken into account with these cells. The Brusaws have stated that their cell material was able to stop a vehicle speeding at 80 mph in the required distance. The roadways will also be self-illuminating, allowing drivers to see debris and animals as well as avoid accidents.

Could cost hinder the green highway?

Photovoltaic cells have reduced in price so much that even insurance premiums for the technology have nosedived, according to Bloomberg.

David Forbes, an engineer at the University of Arizona, is particularly worried about hindering costs associated with building these solar roadways.

“The solar panels need to be firmly supported, which means that they need a concrete road to be built on top of,” Forbes told Tech Page One. Furthermore, the construction of these panels would require similar techniques to building traditional asphalt roadways.

“Asphalt roads are less expensive to construct than concrete, because it can all be done with graders and rollers … concrete requires forms and [reinforcing bars] that are normally used in building construction,” said Forbes.

Solar Roadways estimated that if it could create a panel for less than $10,000, then break even with asphalt, according to the website. The true answer is that a great deal of uncertainty exists over the true cost of the project, and the company is set to hire a group of engineers to calculate the numbers.

In a time of government budgetary uncertainty, cost will be one of the defining factors of this project’s success or failure. If implemented, however, the country’s landscape will be redefined and the statistics potentially flipped on its head.

Norman Rozenberg
Norman Rozenberg, based in the New York metro area, keeps up with the dynamic world of development, innovation and public health. He has also contributed to Txchnologist, an online technology magazine.
Norman Rozenberg
Norman Rozenberg
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