There are ideas, there are big ideas and then there are really big ideas. Somewhere beyond these, there are Solar Roadways.Imagine that all of our asphalt roads, all the car parks and all the driveways were solar panels. How much electricity could it produce? Well, according to Scott and Julie Brusaw, the Unites States alone could generate the three times amount of electricity used there each year. They are co-inventors of Solar Roadways, and have a vision of a new kind of road surface that could halve greenhouse gases and improve electricity and telecommunications network distribution, road safety, law and order and animal welfare!


The new surfaces would either sit on top of existing asphalt directly, or on risers above it, and would consist of interconnecting road panels. Each panel comprises of three layers. The top one is translucent, weatherproof and high traction. It provides the actual driving surface, whilst allowing light through to the central layer. This layer contains a large number of solar collection and storage cells, along with some switchable LEDs which form road markings. The energy collected and stored in this layer is managed and distributed by the base plate electronics layer, which is also capable of carrying data signals such as telephone and TV networks.


When the panels are connected along highways and driveways, the entire structure would be both an energy generating and distribution system in one, the driveway connections carrying electricity and data directly to and from homes. As if that is not enough, since the road is able to detect what is happening by the shadows formed on its surface, it can be programmed to respond intelligently to changes. It could alert police to a car weaving erratically, or use the LEDs to optimise lane markings in response to traffic flow. Street lamps and emergency telephones could simply be attached directly to the road since they would be powered by it.

Since the energy used at night is replaced by the solar cells in the daytime, the side of the country in sunlight effectively powers the side in darkness. When this concept is extended across the whole planet, it is a powerful and inspiring vision.


Even wildlife benefits – whilst small animals can pass through culverts under the road, larger animals are detected by motion sensors and startled away from the road by flashes from LEDs.

It all sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Well, as a born skeptic, the craziest thing to me is how little I can actually find wrong with it. The Brusaws’ calculations are based on assumptions that are extremely conservative – only 4 peak hours of daylight and solar cells that are only 15% efficient. It is an enormously big idea, but so must water mains, sewers, the electricity and gas distribution systems and railways all have seemed before they were built. Scott Brusaw is a qualified electrical engineer and has multiple existing patents and tons of enthusiasm. As well as the website, you can find the latest news about Solar Roads on their MySpace.

My view is that big problems need big solutions. In my conservative opinion, even if only 15% of the vision of Solar Roadways was achievable, it would be a marvellous leap forward towards a more sustainable future.




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