The American start-up Solar Roadways has imagined a way to turn entire roads into solar panels. In theory, you could power the entire United States three times.
Solar Roadways is the project of Idaho couple Scott and Julie Brusaw. They developed hexagonal glass tiles that incorporate solar cells and LED lights. Cover an entire street with it and that street immediately becomes a large solar panel. The same goes for sidewalks, parking lots, bike lanes, and literally “every surface under the sun,” the Brusaws say.
The Brusaws have just unveiled a working prototype of their invention. They built it in the driveway of their garage. It can handle vehicles up to 113 tons, provides the same traction as a traditional road so you don’t skid on it, and delivers 3600 watts of power. However, the inventors insist that the tiles they used are prototypes that contain only 69% solar cells. With the production models that would be at 100%, they would produce even more electricity.
If all roads, parking lots and other paved surfaces in the United States were covered with Solar Roadways tiles, it would be enough to meet three times the energy needs of the United States, according to the company. Coal-fired power plants would no longer be needed, increasing US CO2emissions would be immediately reduced by 50%. The roads could also be used to charge electric cars. In terms of greenhouse gases, it would also be a big hit for the drink.
Good against traffic jams
However, tiles are more than just solar panels. The Brusaws quickly realized that it was impossible to paint lines on it, as they would interfere with the solar cells. So they put LED lights in there. These LEDs can be used as road markings, but with other sensors they could also help regulate traffic and thus prevent traffic jams, warn motorists of crossing wild animals or children, or even display advertising messages, which would make them commercially attractive for parking lots in shopping centres, for example. .
To combat light pollution, the lights would not be on all the time, but only when there is traffic nearby. According to the Brusaws, your way would be lit a mile ahead and half a mile behind you. It would also benefit safety: if you see the stretch of lane next to you lit up on a deserted road at night, for example, you know a car is approaching behind you.
Another problem was that the snow would render the tiles useless in cold climates. That’s why the Brusaws have built-in heating elements that automatically keep the road clear of snow. Snowplows should therefore theoretically stay away, except in very northern regions where it freezes for months and snow falls from the sky in buckets at the same time. Good for Belgium, in other words, but maybe less so for Norway.
To make all this possible, each tile has its own computer chip which is wirelessly connected to those of the other tiles. The advantage would be that maintenance teams would know immediately when a tile breaks and would also know exactly where it is.
At the same time, it would be extremely difficult for thieves to steal the tiles. If you broke one in the road and chased it away, it would continue to communicate with those still in place, providing the police with a ready route to the thieves’ front door.