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Could photovoltaics turn roadways, parking lots and patios into green energy producers?

GRN Reports If you are fervently hoping that there’s a fantastic green energy solution out there that could help us salvage our oil-sotted planet (and who isn’t?), you will want...

 GRN Reports

If you are fervently hoping that there’s a fantastic green energy solution out there that could help us salvage our oil-sotted planet (and who isn’t?), you will want to know about  SolarRoadways.com.

This project, and the video that shouts about (see “Solar Freakin’ Roadways!” below), would pave the world with hard, traction-ready photovoltaic glass hexagons embedded into roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

The plan, baked by Julie and Scott Brusaw (he’s an electrical engineer and she’s a family therapist) of Sandpoint, Idaho, would harness the everlasting energy of the sun by laying out photovoltaics wherever there’s an available roadway or concrete surface just sitting there awaiting a higher purpose.

Downtown Sandpoint  as prototype for Solar Roadways Graphic design by Sam Cornett

Sandpoint, Idaho, home of Solar Roadways, envisioned as a solar road pioneer. (Graphic: Sam Cornett)

This massive proposed upcycling project, which raised an impressive $2.2 million on Indiegogo in the crowd funder’s biggest campaign ever, would not come cheaply, but it is alluringlymulti-purpose, clean and green. The revamped roadways, parking lots and drive ways would passively capture solar power, melt snow, warn about road hazards, light themselves up, control water runoff and have a space for electric cables tucked below them. These would be really “smart” roads.

In this scenario, we humans could quit stupidly spitting out life-killing greenhouse gases to power our cars and buildings, because it could all be powered by solar. We’d renew our lease on Planet Earth — and this huge feat would be happening right under our feet on a surface we could drive, dance, exercise and stomp on.

And we already own the rights-of-way to this property, so we don’t have to gobble up new land, just get our cities, counties and states to buy in.

As elegant and encompassing as this idea is, it does have major pitfalls. First, it could be outrageously costly, and we don’t really know how durable these glass lego-like solar “pavement” blocks really work be, installed on bumpy, winding roads.  This article was highly skeptical.)

But the Brusaws, who sound more rational than most politicians and not at all like mad scientists, recognize that they’d have to start smaller than say, paving I-70:

We’re aware that this won’t happen overnight. We’ll need to start off small: driveways, bike paths, patios, sidewalks, parking lots, playgrounds, etc. This is where we’ll learn our lessons and perfect our system. Once the lessons have been learned and the bugs have all been resolved, we’ll plan to move out onto public roads.

Imagine one major fast-food chain retrofitting their parking lots across the nation: an all-electric vehicle (EV) could now recharge in those parking lots when needed. This removes the range limitation for EVs (eliminating their need to be recharged at home every night) and makes them far more practical. People would be more likely to trade in their internal-combustion engine vehicles for all-electric vehicles.

Other businesses would see the advantage of retrofitting their parking lots: they could either go off-grid or put a huge dent in their monthly electric bill. They would also attract more customers, who would eat or shop in their stores as their EVs recharged in their parking lots. As more businesses jump on board, the EVs become more and more practical.

Intoxicating, isn’t it?

You just have to look on down (and also at) the road a bit to take in this big vision. But here’s where the solar roads’ kick-asphalt promo, “Solar Freakin’ Roadways!”, comes in. It’s fun to watch and dream. And maybe we should be dreaming more, and nay-saying less.


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