The Solution to a Greener Future

panels
When the real threats of Global Warming and Climate Change became a concern, the world focused its attention and resources into developing sources of clean and renewable energy such as sunlight, wind, geothermal heat, rain, tides and waves. One of the mainstream renewable technologies, solar energy is harnessed through various range of ever-improving equipment such as solar heating, solar architecture, solar thermal electricity, solar photovoltaics and artificial photosynthesis. The newest innovation to photovoltaics is the solar panel roadways.
Created by electrical engineer Scott and Julie Brusaw in 2006, the Solar Roadway Project is a concept developed from Scott’s realization of the dangers of being reliant on fossil fuels and to alleviate this dependence, they invented the solar panel roadways. These are interlocking glass panels in the shape of a four square foot hexagon that is meant to substitute traditional concrete and asphalt roadways with solar cell-covered streets, sidewalks, recreation courts and parking lots.

These panels are created with semiconductor crystals that share electron bonds which absorbs the sunlight. When these electrons get excited to a greater energy level, they are no longer bound to other atoms and can move around the crystal freely. These excited, free-flowing electrons can now generate electric current that can be stored or used as renewable source of energy.

The solar highways are made with individual smart panels which consist of three layers: on top is a durable, textured glass can withstand even the heaviest of motor vehicles and provides surface grips for tires, in the middle is an arrangement of solar cells to collect solar energy, and at the bottom is a base plate that distributes the accumulated energy. Aside from storing solar energy, each solar panel units also have built-in LED lights that can be used as road markings and warning signs that can be changed dynamically. The luminescent yellow LED lights can improve landing visibility for airplane pilots and help make night driving safer than the traditional painted street lines.

An installed snowmelt system has embedded heating elements for frost protection and thawing snow that can help prevent snow-related accidents and delays. The solar panel roadways have provided a solution to electric vehicles main problem of finding roadside stations to recharge their batteries. Having an accessible source of power while on the road can make it easy for electric cars to stay charged up and creating less demand for fuel-powered cars that leaves high traces of carbon deposits. A 3.7 m x 3.7 m panel can generate as much as 7.6 kilowatt hours of electricity in 24 hours and a mile of solar roadways can sustain the electricity demand of about 500 homes.

Currently, the production and installation of the solar panel roadways costs too much and can require substantial funding to cover all concrete roads. Its maintenance and durability are few of the areas that may still need improvement especially for unexpected events such as traffic accidents. Also changes in weather like cloudy or rainy days, or long winters can affect the power generated by the solar units.

With new technological advancements, the production and material costs for each panel may become affordable in the future. The Solar Roadway Project suggests starting first with small-scale ventures. They have developed 2 successful prototypes with financial support from the US Federal Highway Administration. With their continuous improvements, solar panel roadways can be the key to an sustainable eco-friendly future.

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