It is close to twenty percent through the twenty first century and we still travel on asphalt highways, roads, and runways as our grandparents did. Asphalt road technology is quickly becoming obsolete; cracks, potholes and lane closures are the source of many unnecessary accidents and time consuming delays. The cost of producing asphalt is skyrocketing (asphalt is petroleum based which is one reason why) along with the cost of its maintenance contributes to its functional obsolescence. The federal government (Department of Transportation, ‘DOT’) has been aware of the problems associated with our outdated asphalt technology and has lead the way to safer, more cost and travel efficient roadways by offering grant money to encourage the development of “an intelligent pavement that could generate power and pay for itself ” (Mcintyre).
Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer, and his wife Julie, a counselor, both with a minimal amount of knowledge in solar technology applied for and received the $100,000. contract in August of 2009 needed to launch their project which eventually produced a 12 foot by 12 foot solar panel prototype (Funding – SolarRoadways phase 1).
The Brusaws did not invent anything new, they used existing unrelated technologies to create Solar Roadways. The Brusaw’s prototype collects and stores solar energy, uses recycled materials in its construction, and will pay for itself over its lifetime. Their prototype began to attract attention, an organization called YERT (Your Environmental Road Trip) was impressed and then released a video entitled ‘Solar Roadways: The Prototype’ which detailed the progress made by the Brusaws and triggered private donations from enthusiastic supporters.
These private donations helped to keep the project alive. In 2010 the Brusaws were invited to apply for additional funds based on the success of the initial contract. The second DOT investment in the Solar Roadways project came through in July of 2011 in the amount of $750,000 (Funding – SolarRoadways phase 2). The Brusaws were eager to expand on the knowledge they have already acquired and apply it to build the first solar parking lot in history. They then began to improve this prototype by developing a way to heat the panels, tweak the electronic components, and conduct the appropriate tests. Upon completion of the refined prototype the Brusaws exposed it to the public through various methods including social media. It was received favorably and the momentum built as the Brusaws were invited to speak about their working model. Solar Roadways were mentioned as one of the leading scientific breakthroughs by Popular Science in 2014. There were adequate funds coming in from enthusiastic supporters and celebrities to keep Solar Roadway technology progressing. Then late in 2014 the Solar Roadways project applied for and received a third infusion of government funds through the DOT, again in the amount of $750,000. These funds were necessary for additional research and testing in order for the Solar Roadways to be ready for their ultimate purpose of being our next generation of roads, highways, and runways. This technology appears to be close to being ready for public service and certainly ready for further infusions of government funds until this technology becomes a reality.
So, what is the Solar Roadway excitement all about and why should the government continue to invest taxpayer funds to further subsidize them? To begin with, Solar Roadways are an avenue to energy independence. Solar Roadways collect and store solar energy which can serve the tax paying public on many levels. For over a century, the United States of America has paid a high cost for imported energy. To this day we have troops, enormous warships, and US Citizens working for companies in the middle east protecting and occasionally going to war for oil to continue to flow into the USA (Juhasz). Most people agree that we cannot keep burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to produce electricity. There is only so much coal, oil, and natural gas on the planet; the sun is an unlimited source of power and seems like it is just a matter of time before the human race must harness this unlimited clean energy. Traveling on Solar Roadways also pays for itself by providing a safer surface to cruise on. Smart, weight sensitive solar panels, laced with LED lighting increases driver visibility as well as serving as a warning of dangerous objects on the road (animals, rocks, trees, etc.) This is what all the excitement about Solar Roadways is about. Solar Roadways collect energy from the sun and convert it to electricity. This amazing technology is a leap forward in energy independence and safer more efficient road travel. As well as being an energy solution and increasing safety, Solar Roadways also serve as a partial solution to air and water pollution.
Solar Roadways are smart microprocessing, interlocking solar panels that will replace asphalt highways, roads, and runways as well as sidewalks, recreational areas, driveways etc. They are assembled into functional layers. The outer layer is weatherproof and translucent and made from recycled glass which contains LED lighting and a heating element (to keep road temperatures just above freezing). The electronics layer contains the microprocessing board along with the circuitry needed to sense loads on the road as well as controlling the outer layer heating element and photovoltaic cells (a solar cell which converts the solar energy directly into electricity) (Khan, Jibran, and Mudassar H. Arsalan). The lowest or base layer carries the electricity, phone, internet, and television signals along the roadway to those residential and commercial customers of the technology (Jeevan 21-22).
Solar Roadways also give value to the taxpaying public by eliminating the need for unsightly, dangerous, and costly (as they need repair and/or replacement after storms) telephone poles. In addition to reducing our dependence on imported energy, providing several solutions to pollution, safer road travel, and improving our beautiful landscape, Solar Roadways will provide an increase in factory jobs as approximately 5 billion 12 foot by 12 foot solar panels will be needed to resurface our nation’s roadways. (Cinela LLC) There will also be an increase in transportation jobs to get these panels to sites where they will be installed. Construction workers, engineers, and supervisors will also need to be employed to install and test the Solar Roadways. This boom in jobs will help the Solar Roadways pay for themselves. Once again, this is what all the Solar Roadways excitement is all about and why this technology needs the financial support to continue.
From the viewpoint of a twenty year old millennial, our planet is being destroyed by pollution. In its job to protect us, one of the federal government’s job is to promote an environment in which we can feel safe. The continued federal government funding of Solar Roadways will help in giving us confidence in having fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink. From prehistoric times when state of the art technology was fire, man began to pollute the air. According to a 1983 article in the journal Science, soot was found in caves where fires were used. Throughout history and advancements in technology, the human race has gradually continued to pollute our environment (Pollution-Online-Journals). The invention of the automobile, the petroleum based asphalt roads used to drive upon, the invention and production of electricity and many other examples of polluting technology has caused us to be where we are today early in the 21st century. The air we breathe and the water we drink are not as clean as they once were, these are the effects of our continuously changing high technology world. Solar Roadway technology is here and offering solutions to some of our pollution problems. The first and most obvious problem is our addiction to the use of fossil fuels. Solar Roadways will replace petroleum based asphalt roads with non-toxic surfaces. Solar Roadways will also produce electricity without burning coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels are the major sources of energy used to generate electricity (Energy Information Administration). And with this abundance of electricity, it is likely to encourage the electric car manufacturers to speed up their research and development in order to get their products to the showrooms as quickly as possible. Solar Roadways also contribute to help solve our water pollution problem.
As Solar Roadways technology evolved, there was a need created to capture the melted snow and runoff water to prevent the runoff water from freezing and cracking the Solar Roadways. This resulted in designing a system to capture, filter, and store the runoff water into underground (below the frostline) storage tanks. When the tanks are filled, the water is pumped through a number of check valves to a water treatment facility. From there it is pumped through a similar system along the Solar Roadway infrastructure to where the clean water is needed most (farms, aquifers, etc.) Addressing this water runoff solution will be a tremendous improvement over our current system of allowing water to runoff asphalt roadways and collect toxins from the road which eventually seep into the ground winding up in our rivers, streams, and public waterways. It has been reported by the National Resource Defence Council that stormwater contamination is a major problem (Encourage Green Infrastructure). Toxins from road surfaces contaminate our nation’s waterways. If the planet Earth could ask us a question, it would probably ask, isn’t it time for Solar Roadways?