Currently, humanity is on the brink of environmental disaster due to climate change. Our future could be a bleak one with rising seas and an atmosphere heating up to extreme temperatures. Or it could be a peaceful place with clean energy and a major reduction of the usage of oil, gas and coal a thing of the past. If one couple in Idaho gets their way, this clean green future could include their very own invention, solar roads.
As a child, Scott Brusaw spent many a long afternoon setting up roads for his electric toy cars to run on. He would think about a future where all roads were electric allowing kids like him to drive. Brusaw grew up and trained as an electrical engineer and that idea always stayed with him.
In the midst of the mid-2000s, with the debate about climate change beginning, Brusaw and his wife Julie wanted to think of a project that could reduce the effects on the environment caused by global warming. It was Julie who saw a way to bring Brusaw’s childhood dream to life and have a real effect on reducing emissions. Initially, Brusaw laughed when she asked if they could build the electric roads he had long dreamt of out of solar panels, but soon he was thinking seriously about the project.
The couple reasoned that the material used to make the roads needed to be excessively strong. It had to withstand the weight of the heaviest vehicles without cracking as well as the stress of repeated use and extreme weather. With these factors in mind, they looked to the material that houses black boxes on airplanes. They needed a way to house the solar panels and sensitive electronics so that they were kept functional, but also so that the light could get to the solar panels inside. They also looked at all the elements needed on the roads, LEDs for streets signs and road illumination so that it would be easier to drive at night, heating parts to repel ice and snow and a road that could feed off the sun during the day to recharge the grid as well as the cars that ran over its surface, drastically reducing car emissions. When all the elements came together, the idea of Solar Roadways was born.
Scott and Julie worked out the U.S is covered with around 72,000 kilometers of roads and concrete surfaces such as parking lots soaking up the sun’s rays. In changing the roadways and other concrete areas from traditional asphalt, a petroleum-based material, to hardy solar panels, the combined energy created would be around three times as much power as the nation uses as a whole. This would be a giant step in the right direction to end climate change.
Currently, the couple has received a small government contract to develop their invention and they are hoping to raise more money via the crowd funding site Indiegogo. They have tested the panels which can resist up to 125 tons without cracking. They have a small test site in the form of a parking lot, which Brusaw has reportedly said is about the same as a “3600W solar array.” The panels have also passed traction tests and are said to be able to stop a car traveling at 128 kpr on a wet surface with the distance needed for regular road standards.
As climate change causes adverse effects to our natural environment, Scott Brusaw sees the future of our planet in the hands of the every-man, like him building inventions in their garages for a better future. He reportedly stated that with emissions a major contributing factor to global warming, solar roads just might be a way forward to reduce the effects on the environment. At the very least, it is a step in the right direction.
By Sara Watson