Solar Roadways Light the Way for the Future of Infrastructure
Here's a glimpse into the future: high maintenance, expensive concrete roads and parking lots turned into glossy solar surfaces, fueling enough energy from the sun to power nearby communities and the electric vehicles above them.
According to inventors/creators of Solar Roadways, Scott and Julie Brusaw, sections of the road could be made out of solar cells to collect energy, which would more than pay for the cost of the panels. And what if LEDs were added beneath road lines for safer night time driving, and heating elements were added to prevent snow/ice accumulation in northern climates? Those are questions the Solar Roadways project sought to answer under a 2009 Federal Highway Administration contract to build the first ever prototype.
"We're building solar panels that you can drive on," Brusaw told the Scientific American. "The fact that it's generating power means it pays for itself over time, as opposed to asphalt."
Thus far, the results have proved favorable and the company was awarded a follow-up 2-year Phase II $750,000 SBIR contract in 2011 to build a prototype parking lot in Idaho—an effort expected to be showcased this Spring.
"The Federal Highway Administration told us they're not going to let us go out on the highway to start this,” Brusaw told CNN. "They told us to go into the parking lot first, prove your technology, perfect it and learn your lessons there -- which makes sense."
Is it safe?
Actually, solar roads may even be safer than concrete. The hardness of glass on the solar panels falls somewhere in between the strength of steel and stainless steel, and does not accumulate a slick sheen of oil on its surface like cement. In addition to its strength, the glass will also be textured in a way that encourages tires to grip the surface and water to run off. It's also easier and faster to replace.
Each road panel is made of three basic layers. The road surface layer is translucent and rough enough to provide great traction, capable of handling today's heaviest loads under the absolute worst conditions. An electronics layer would control the heating element, lighting, communications and monitoring to create an intelligent highway system. The base plate layer would take the sun collected from the electronics layer and distribute it to homes and businesses connected to the roadway.
One of the great challenges of the Brusaws' big idea will be creating a type of glass that is also self-cleaning in order to cope with the grit and grime of heavy use over time. Surely, developing a revolutionary product like that will come at a price as well.
"The cost to develop a glass that will hold up in the fast lane of a highway? Fifteen [million] to 25 million dollars over three to five years," Brusaw added. "The cost in mass production? About $1 per square foot."
Furthermore, the solar roadway system would require sophisticated energy-storage capability. But the yet-to-be-invented glass does not intimidate the couple, who are determined to create a cross-country highway system that can double as an electricity generator and power grid—a model they believe could very well eliminate the need for fossil fuels in energy generation across the country.
"Based on my calculations, at 15 percent efficiency [from the photovoltaics] we produce more than three times the electricity we have ever produced," Brusaw told the Scientific American, adding "we think we can make enough to meet the nation's energy needs.”
Even when the roads are smothered in traffic, Brusaw estimates that solar collection would be at 50 percent.
A remarkable idea come to life, the Solar Roadway could very well become one of the greatest infrastructure innovations of the 21st century. It's time to upgrade.
Images sourced via Solar Roadways
Major move forward for UK’s nascent marine energy sector
Although the industry is small and the technologies are limited, marine-based energy systems look to be taking off as “the world’s most powerful tidal turbine” begins grid-connected power generation at the European Marine Energy Centre.
At around 74 metres long, the turbine single-handedly holds the potential to supply the annual electricity demand to approximately 2,000 homes within the UK and offset 2,200 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Orbital Marine Power, a privately held Scottish-based company, announced the turbine is set to operate for around 15 years in the waters surrounding Orkney, Scotland, where the 2-megawatt O2 turbine weighing around 680 metric tons will be linked to a local on-land electricity network via a subsea cable.
How optimistic is the outlook for the UK’s turbine bid?
Described as a “major milestone for O2” by CEO of Orbital Marine Power Andrew Scott, the turbine will also supply additional power to generate ‘green hydrogen’ through the use of a land-based electrolyser in the hopes it will demonstrate the “decarbonisation of wider energy requirements.”
“Our vision is that this project is the trigger to the harnessing of tidal stream resources around the world to play a role in tackling climate change whilst creating a new, low-carbon industrial sector,” says Scott in a statement.
The Scottish Government has awarded £3.4 million through the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund to support the project’s construction, while public lenders also contributed to the financial requirements of the tidal turbine through the ethical investment platform Abundance Investment.
“The deployment of Orbital Marine Power’s O2, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, is a proud moment for Scotland and a significant milestone in our journey to net zero,” says Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Net-Zero, Energy and Transport for the Scottish Government.
“With our abundant natural resources, expertise and ambition, Scotland is ideally placed to harness the enormous global market for marine energy whilst helping deliver a net-zero economy.
“That’s why the Scottish Government has consistently supported the marine energy sector for over 10 years.”
However, Orbital Marine CEO Scott believes there’s potential to commercialise the technology being used in the project with the prospect of working towards more efficient and advanced marine energy projects in the future.
“We believe pioneering our vision in the UK can deliver on a broad spectrum of political initiatives across net-zero, levelling up and building back better at the same time as demonstrating global leadership in the area of low carbon innovation that is essential to creating a more sustainable future for the generations to come.”
The UK’s growing marine energy endeavours
This latest tidal turbine project isn’t a first for marine energy in the UK. The Port of London Authority permitted the River Thames to become a temporary home for trials into tidal energy technology and, more recently, a research project spanning the course of a year is set to focus on the potential tidal, wave, and floating wind technology holds for the future efficiency of renewable energy. The research is due to take place off of the Southwest coast of England on the Isles of Scilly