Solar Roadways: Powering the US

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Graphic Artist Sam Cornett

There is no shortage of innovative sustainable development concepts being introduced these days – from Honeywell’s recent announcement of a smart thermostat to compete with Google’s popular Nest to the potentially revolutionary idea to 3D print houses in the not too distant future. But one concept has particularly captured the imagination of the blogosphere.

Not even Jules Verne predicted them: solar roadways that literally power the US. If you have been on Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed, or any other popular social media platform in the past month, chances are you have caught wind of Solar Roadways, an invention dedicated to just that: surfaces made of self-heating, LED solar panel hexagons. The panels, meant to replace the country’s aging infrastructure, can be installed as roads, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, playground, bike paths, and almost any other surface imaginable. In addition, the panels are intended to treat stormwater and store cables that would otherwise hang above ground. Concerned about tax increases to finance the tiles? Don’t be. The inventors say that the panels will pay for themselves over their lifespan with the generation of electricity.

Dreamed up by Julie and Scott Brusaw, the concept emerged out of their desire to revitalize the aging energy infrastructure of the US in a way that was both environmentally and economically conscious. So popular was their idea that the Federal Highway Administration contracted the Brusaws to design and build the first solar roadway panel prototype in 2009. Since then, they have begun constructing the second phase of prototypes.

By Dan Walden - http://www.solarroadways.com/hirespics.html, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32211765
By Dan Walden – http://www.solarroadways.com/hirespics.html, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32211765

With the addition of LED lighting, the hexagonal panels can adjust to the needs of drivers. For example, a store manager can quickly and easily add additional handicap parking as needed when all of the existing handicap spots have filled. During evening hours, the LED lighting ensures that drivers have better roadway visibility. Solar roadways may even have the potential to save drivers and animals from deadly crashes through LED alerts when something (or someone) has stepped onto the road ahead.

It may seem futuristic, but solar roadways are a real possibility and could completely transform the road infrastructure and electric grid of the US. What would you most like to see as a feature or capability of the panels? What other innovative sustainable development concepts have intrigued you?

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