One for the Road
Sometimes a great idea is so close you're literally standing on it.
At least that's been the case for Scott and Julie Brusaw, an Idaho couple that founded Solar Roadways a few years ago. They have what can only be called a grand vision — banishing asphalt roadways once and forever and paving the streets of the world with intelligent solar panels. Every driveway, parking lot, and all road systems — interstate highways, state routes, main street U.S.A., even dirt country roads — are candidates. And let's not forget amusement parks, raceways, bike paths and parking garage rooftops.
These smart glass roads will be made of interconnected Solar Road Panels. The panels will collect enough energy to power our homes and businesses, not to mention running the roads lighting and display capabilities and, for northern climates, the heating elements that keep the roads clear no matter what the weather.
This is not just a mad gleam in the eye of a couple of enterprising would-be entrepreneurs from Idaho. With a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) grant, Solar Roadways built its first prototype in 2009. Recently it completed a Phase I SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) contract and this July was awarded a follow-up $750,000 Phase II contract by the FHWA.
The solar panels consist of three layers. The road surface layer is roughened to provide lots of traction — we don't want 18-wheelers, SUVs and campers whirling around like demented ice skaters. It's translucent and tough enough to handle heavy loads in the worst weather and provide protection to the next layer — the electronic layer.
This second layer contains a microprocessor board, which allows the panel to sense surface loads and control the heating elements.
The third, base plate layer takes the energy collected by the electronics layer and distributes it to all the homes and businesses connected to the Solar Roadway.
These folks think big. This from their website: "Imagine a world-wide system where the 'lit half of the world' is always powering the 'dark' half of the world! Everyone has power. No more power shortages, no more roaming power outages, no more need to burn coal (50 percent of all greenhouse gases). Less need for fossil fuels and less dependency upon foreign oil. Much less pollution. How about this for a long term advantage: an electric road allows all-electric vehicles to recharge anywhere: rest stops, parking lots, etc. They would then have the same range as a gasoline-powered vehicle. Internal combustion engines would become obsolete. Our dependency on oil would come to an abrupt end."
Scott Brusaw figures the money from the Phase II SBIR grant should just about cover the cost of creating a prototype parking lot. The project will take two years or so given the speed bumps that they are bound to encounter.
No matter. Today a parking lot. Tomorrow the world.