Solar energy has been at the top of many people's list when it comes to renewable energy sources. While some companies have designed vehicles to run on solar energy, others are still focusing on the lack of a power grid able to handle a significant load increase. A new concept funded by the Department of Energy may be able to offer a solution to this problem.
The system being developed is called Solar Roadways and, as the name implies, uses solar arrays imbedded into the road to produce and capture energy. Each section of roadway measures 12 feet long by 12 feet wide and can produce an average of 7.6 kilowatt hours of energy every 24 hours. Put into more common terms, a mile long stretch of 4 lane highway would be able to produce 21120 kilowatt hours per day. This would be enough power to take 500 homes off the local grid.
Imagine the number of homes that could be removed from the grid if the entire interstate system was fitted with the Solar Road panels. If even half of the nationwide interstate system was being used in this manner, the issue regarding energy that we as a nation are facing would be over in a matter of months.
The top layer of the Solar Road panels would obviously need to be strong enough to withstand the forces of vehicles going over them dozens of times per day. The panels would also need to be sturdy enough to deal with the harsh environments associated with some of our interstates.
The bottom layer of the paneling would be used to route the power being produced. The path it would take could either lead straight to a home or business, or be stored for later use. This would also be used to house utility lines and the microprocessor needed to keep the panel alive if a neighboring panel fails.
The team of researchers is also looking into using LEDs inside the panels to convey messages to drivers, similar to programmable construction signs. Interestingly enough, the option of including a heating system in the Solar Road was also explored. While it would require some power to heat the roadway, it would easily be offset by no longer needing plowed during cold weather.
The system is still in the design phase and a prototype is in the works. Even though the Solar Road project will likely remain a concept idea, this kind of innovative thinking is exactly what is needed. Although, the irony of using roads to produce power to run on said roads is vaguely amusing.