Life Imitates ‘Tron’ Thanks to Solar Roadways
By Alex Rollinson
Transforming the Road
On June 20, 2014, Scott and Julie Brusaw received $2.2 million in crowdfunding for their invention which may solve many of the world’s woes. Their idea: replacing or covering all paved surfaces such as highways, parking lots and sidewalks with interlocking, hexagonal solar panels.
As explained on the Idaho couple’s Indiegogo page, electricity generated by the panels will power LED road lines, signs and other graphics. Channels on both sides of the roadway will serve two purposes: one will contain all cables including telephone and power lines, thus eliminating the need for telephone poles; the other will funnel storm water to treatment facilities.
The couple recently finished testing a parking lot of panels for the United States Federal Highway Administration and are now hiring staff and preparing to work on commercial projects. These are expected to begin by spring 2015, but the dream of replacing all pavement is distant at best.
Two Shades of Green
If all of Scott and Julie’s hopes come true, the environment and economy may bloom again. Here are a few of their predictions:
A tsunami of critics has formed since this earthquake of an idea first promised to shake up the energy, transportation and manufacturing industries.
Most commonly are claims that the much larger cost of solar panels, compared to traditional asphalt, renders the idea infeasible. Others worry that dirt, oil, shadows and other obstructions will reduce greatly the power output of the panels. Another concern is that solar panels are just not efficient enough to supply excess power while running the LED lights and heating plates.
Scott, who holds a Masters in electrical engineering, addresses these concerns and more on the solar roadway FAQ. However, the truth will not be known for sure until the panels are used in real, large-scale projects.
Panels of Possibilities
What would a world of solar roadways look like?
Greenhouse gases would be greatly reduced, traditional power plants would disappear and electric vehicles that charge as they drive on the road would become common. In fact, a potential partnership with Google could mean self-driving electric vehicles (guided by panel position rather than GPS) will become ubiquitous. In other words, you could safely drive to Taco Bell without hitting the gas pedal.
A late night cruise down the highway would be less dangerous as panels would light up when animals or debris are detected on the road. Children could safely cross the streets at night as pressure-activated sensors would illuminate the crosswalk’s LEDs and possibly even display text warning drivers.
And, as the promotional video points out, a solar roadway world may look just like the film Tron.
Alex Rollinson is an Ontario city-boy with the Rocky Mountains in his heart. He is currently working on his undergraduate degree in English and Business at the University of Waterloo while reading, writing, and filming whenever he can. See what else Alex is up to on Twitter, @Alex_Rollinson