Imagine no power lines exist. It’s easy if you try: no pavement below us, above us only sky.
If the above sounds like an altered version of the world John Lennon helped us all imagine, that’s because it is. It’s also the world that Scott and Julie Brusaw of Sagel, Idaho, envision unfolding if their Solar Roadways are adopted nationwide. Their brainchild is a 12-by-12-foot array of hexagonal solar panels tough enough to drive on, but these panels are capable of so much more.
Alark Kulkarni of the International Journal of Engineering Research and Applications (IJERA) published that the Brusaws’ Solar Roadways project has been incubating since at least early 2009. The project didn’t get a lot of press until last year’s overachievingIndieGoGo campaign. The husband-and-wife team was hoping for $1 million to get their venture off the ground, but the more than $2 million they landed really helped to get the wheels rolling.
Renewable energy is an obvious focus of the fledgling company, but the venture is about a lot more than just “going green.” For one thing, if America’s 2 million-plus miles of asphalt are replaced with these grids, IJERA proposes that Solar Roadways would generate well over three times our nation’s electricity demand. Another benefit of Solar Roadways becomes apparent during snowy and icy weather. The panels are heated, so slaving with a plow will no longer be needed to keep the roads clear.
Regardless of the weather, though, the Roadways have another feature that could change the way we all drive. These panels, loaded with LEDs and pressure sensors, are capable of knowing that a deer is up the road. That’s exciting, but what is even wilder is that the LEDs can alert folks with an in-road warning that they are about to hit a deer.
LEDs, heated roads and renewable energy sound great, and Solar Roadways isn’t just another fly-by-night company. Greentech Media reported that well before the IndieGoGo campaign “the Brusaws secured a $100,000 grant from the Department of Transportation” which the couple used to build a prototype. The DOT continued its support with $750,000 more to develop an array that demonstrated Solar Roadways’ application in a parking lot setting.
When asked by Greentech Media about how practical Solar Roadways was, Eric Weaver, a research engineer with the Federal Highway Administration, responded that he doubted the feasibility of blanketing all our nation’s roadways with solar panels. He then softened the statement by adding, “If you don’t reach for something, you’ll never get there.”
The Brusaws’ plan has plenty to be skeptical about. While Boston’s Big Dig was an indication that infrastructure updates on a massive scale often take more funds and time than anticipated, the city’s Rose Kennedy Greenway serves as proof that beautiful things can come out of projects that are, at one point, deemed as impractical or unfeasible.
The project may be slow-moving, but this road has a lot of traction. Just last month,Solar Roadways shared news that Missouri’s Department of Transportation has expressed interest in the technology, and the startup company is psyched about future possibilities. Their road might be winding, but ending in gold is easy to imagine.