Posted by Sheila Shayon on August 3, 2010 12:30 PM
the solar sector, part 1: bright dreams…
Intelligent solar roads? Roads that pay for themselves? Roads that use garbage from landfills for part of their infrastructure? Is this a utopian vision from the director’s cut of Inception? Nope. It’s part of Solar Roadways’ vision for the very near future.
Solar Roadways CEO and co-founder Scott Brusaw is an engineer building prototypes of solar panels that would replace asphalt surfaced roads. Solar panels strong enough, mind you, for any “Ice Trucker’s” biggest rig, loaded and driving at speeds up to 80 miles per hour.
As the price of asphalt and all fossil energy-fueled products soars ever higher, and the unsustainable environmental impact of our current transportation model, Brusaw’s idea of ribbons of solar-powered roadways is both ambitious and auspicious.
The interstate highway system is an infrastructural legacy of President Eisenhower and the post-World War II industrial boom, when the oil-fueled automotive future seemed limitless. The system is so vast that, used as a receptacle for solar energy, it could replace dependency on fossil fuels.
But wait, there’s more to the company’s vision: The roads could serve as a grid delivering collected solar energy to homes and businesses. Built-in LEDs would serve as “road signs” on these “intelligent” highways and drivers would recharge their cars at roadside stations.
The roadblock on this highway to a bright solar future? Cost. Definitely higher than currently under-funded conventional highways, though off-setting those costs with energy production is a major value-add.
Brusaw’s bottom line: “We’re still in the prototyping stages so we haven’t manufactured anything yet. Our target price is $10K per panel.”
A panel is 12′ X 12′ so 440 panels would comprise one mile of single-lane road. That amounts to $4.4 million per mile, which Brusaw projects would produce enough electricity (7600 watt-hours per day) to power 428 homes. The ‘payback period’ would take 20 years but drop significantly with manufacturing scale.
Solar Roadways received prototype funding from DOT last year - $100,000 to construct the first 12' by 12' panel. Brusaw estimates that “if every street, driveway and parking lot was replaced with this invention, it would supply three times as much electricity as was used in the US in 2003.”
Detractors question the economics, durability and maintenance of Brusaw’s vision, and whether this idea is better than linking roads to solar energy farms connected to an energy grid. Of course, had detractors had their way over the past 20 years, you’d be reading these words on a dead tree and getting ready to throw it away in a landfill. So you never know.