Soon our roads could be made of smart solar panels

How can we turn thousands of miles of ugly asphalt roads into energy-producing powerhouses? By paving them in solar panels. One engineer's idea of solar Utopia could be a lot more feasible than you'd think.

Several years ago, engineer Scott Brusaw was talking to his wife Julie about how to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. They realized that one possibility would be to soak up sunlight with solar panels that cover roads, driveways, and more. These panels would also have the benefit of being smart, so they could display information and road directions could light up at night.

Illustration for article titled Soon our roads could be made of smart solar panels
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Solar Roadways explains on their website:

Each individual panel consists of three basic layers:

Road Surface Layer - translucent and high-strength, it is rough enough to provide great traction, yet still passes sunlight through to the solar collector cells embedded within, along with LEDs and a heating element. It is capable of handling today's heaviest loads under the worst of conditions. Weatherproof, it protects the electronics layer beneath it.

Electronics Layer - Contains a microprocessor board with support circuitry for sensing loads on the surface and controlling a heating element. No more snow/ice removal and no more school/business closings due to inclement weather. The on-board microprocessor controls lighting, communications, monitoring, etc. With a communications device every 12 feet, the Solar Roadway is an intelligent highway system.

Base Plate Layer - While the electronics layer collects energy from the sun, it is the base plate layer that distributes power (collected from the electronics layer) and data signals (phone, TV, internet, etc.) "downline" to all homes and businesses connected to the Solar Roadway. Weatherproof, it protects the electronics layer above it.

It sounds like a great idea, but could it really happen? Solar Roadways is actually building a test roadway as a prototype.

Illustration for article titled Soon our roads could be made of smart solar panels

Now we just need a way to store all that solar energy efficiently so we can use it to power our cars and homes 24 hours a day.

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Learn more at Solar Roadways.

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DISCUSSION

DarkPrince010

Road Surface Layer - translucent and high-strength, it is rough enough to provide great traction, yet still passes sunlight through to the solar collector cells embedded within

Aaaaaand had to suspend my disbelief here. I love the idea and the potential it has, but something that is...

  • Affordable on the scale of roadways
  • Transparent enough to charge the cells beneath even after years/decades of use
  • Tough enough to weather years/decades of use without cracking or wearing through

...sounds like wishful thinking. Maybe (Hopefully!) there's a material out there that'd be up to the job, but unfortunately I can't think of any that would fulfill all three requirements. Any chemical/material engineers out there know what they might be planning on using?