Is THIS the most Important Invention of the Decade? Solar Roadways Move Forward

July 25, 2011

Some of you may have seen ClimateCrocks previous report on this idea.  You can view that video below.
Above, Scott Brusaw presents his idea at a TED conference.

Deseret News:

SAGLE, Idaho — A northern Idaho company that aims to transform U.S. highways into a vast, energy-producing network is getting $750,000 from the federal government for the next phase of its project: a solar parking lot.

Solar Roadways of Sagle announced Wednesday it won a Small Business Innovation Research grant for the project from the Federal Highway Administration.

With the money, company founders Scott and Julie Brusaw aim to create a prototype parking lot for testing, but their real dream is for a road system built of 12-foot-by-12-foot solar panels rather than traditional asphalt.


The 12- x 12-foot panels, which each cost $6,900, are designed to be embedded into roads. When shined upon, each panel generates an estimated 7.6 kilowatt hours of power each day. If this electricity could be pumped into the grid, the company predicts that a four-lane, one-mile stretch of road with panels could generate enough power for 500 homes. Although it would be expensive, covering the entire US interstate highway system with the panels could theoretically fulfill the country’s total energy needs. The company estimates that this would take 5 billion panels, but could “produce three times more power than we’ve ever used as a nation – almost enough to power the entire world.”

The Solar Road Panels also contain embedded LED lights that “paint” the road lines from beneath to provide safer nighttime driving. The LEDs could also be programmed to alert drivers of detours or road construction ahead, and can even sense wildlife on the road and warn drivers to slow down. The roads could also contain embedded heating elements in the surface to prevent snow and ice from building up on the road. Further, in the future, fully electric vehicles could recharge along the roadway and in parking lots, making electric cars practical for long trips.

“This feature packed system will become an intelligent highway that will double as a secure, intelligent, decentralized, self-healing  which will enable a gradual weaning from ,” Solar Roadways stated in a recent press release.

Fox News:

“Think of the rear window of your car,” he says. “There would be a heating element [in each cell] similar to that. In the morning, when you go start your car, it pumps out about 15 amps and cranks it up to about 85 degrees to melt whatever snow and ice has accumulated overnight. If you kept the temperature at about 40 degrees you wouldn’t have to do that because it would not accumulate.”

Brusaw has grand intentions, and a side benefit is that the embedded LED lights could also be used for warning messages to drivers. Brusaw says that a study in the United Kingdom found that LED lane markings could improve nighttime visibility by as much as 70%. But his most lofty goal has to do with electrical power generation.

One example: say you decided to pave the road from Minneapolis to Chicago with a solar roadway. Brusaw says the 410 mile distance would require 721,600 solar panels for the four-lane road. That’s enough to generate about 5.5 billion Watt-hours of electricity per day (based on four hours of good sunlight), or enough power to meet the daily needs of about 175,000 homes.

For more – Solar Roadways Website here


9 Responses to “Is THIS the most Important Invention of the Decade? Solar Roadways Move Forward”

  1. It’d be nice to see some figures on the embedded (pun intended) energy costs to produce that road material. The big dozer pushing that garbage around runs on…you guessed it, OIL!!! Making the transition to a fully electric, non-fossil fueled society is, IMO, one of the greatest challenges we face. I’m glad to see steps forward like this video, but our lives are still so heavily integrated into the fossil fuel system…getting truly disconnected from that way of life just doesn’t seem to be happening yet.

    Isn’t there some low hanging fruit we can be picking first, like driving slower? The Roman roads were stone and they’re still around. I’d bet he’s right, that we can’t keep doing it the way we have using our ‘modern’ methods (asphalt) but we can produce lighter vehicles that wear less on roads, conserving what we have right now. We can reduce weight loads, relocalize product distribution networks, and shift more traffic off the highways and onto rail (freight first…passenger would be nice), etc.

    These solar panels seem a little too far off in the future to really be practical right now, especially when theres more we can do with what we already have instead of pinning our hopes on some magic techno-bullet.

  2. Eclipse Now Says:

    Are you trying to bankrupt America? “Although it would be expensive” is the understatement of the century!

    Do the math on what they are suggesting:
    $6900 * 5 billion = $34.5 TRILLION dollars, or half of the annual GLOBAL economy! And then you still haven’t factored in this terribly inconvenient thing we call night time.

    Gen3 nukes like the AP1000 could offer safe reliable baseload power now, and they work at 100% all day every day, even through the horrors of NIGHT TIME! The waste from Gen3 nukes can then be fed into the IFR’s or Gen4 nukes when they arrive.

    We already have the technology to beat global warming, and don’t need to fund the hair-brained schemes of venture capitalists trying to find bizarre new markets for their products. Honestly, they’re going to take the most expensive form of electricity we have — Solar PV — and put it down UNDER cars, in the shade, in car parks? Huh? Did someone just slip something interesting in my coffee, or is this just insane? (No wonder he starts his talk by having a go at sensible, real world engineers leaving derogatory comments on his crack-pot idea).

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      You are right that the cost of building these panels into all our roads would be excessive, and solar PV by itself wouldn’t deal with night time, but he is not proposing that we do that. It is simply for comparison, to understand how much power there is available to us.

      Roads are mostly in the direct sun, not covered by cars. And roads do need to be rebuilt every 30 years anyway, so why not make use of this otherwise wasted resource? (Similar argument about rooftops) The cost of most things produced in large enough quantities migrates down to the same thing, the energy cost per pound of material that needs to be transported.

      As interesting as this idea is, I don’t think it will have a large enough impact to matter in the relatively short amount of time we have available to us. Long term, cars are probably a thing of the past as well, electric or otherwise. But I digress.

      I tend to believe the more important invention for our time will be a way of countering the excess emissions of carbon dioxide. There is a very simple technology for carbon sequestration that is 1000 times more efficient than trees, being developed by Klaus Lackner. He estimates this could be scaled up and cost about 25 cents to remove the CO2 produced by burning a gallon of gas. Now THAT will make a huge difference at a reasonable cost.

  3. singletonengineer Says:

    $5 billion to power 175,000 homes, but still unable to provide power at night or when there is a cloudy sky. Great work.

    That’s $28,500 per home, to provide power about 8 hours per day average, perhaps not at all for weeks on end in a wet, cold winter, with no guarantee that there is any power at all for a morning cup of coffee, to watch TV in the evenings, or … any particular time at all.

    How about reducing the national budget deficit by $750,000 by cancelling the grant and make further savings by sacking the nincompoops in the Federal Government who agreed to waste this money?

    • Eclipse Now Says:

      Hi Singeltoneengineer,

      I think you misread something: it was saying “5.5 billion Watt-hours of electricity = 175,000 homes.”

      So VERY roughly what would this cost?

      I looked up what you could get for $5 billion in nukes.

      I’ve seen estimates for GenIV nukes cheaper than $5billion, and today’s passive safety Gen3 nukes like the Westinghouse AP1000 are estimated to come in at about $3.5 billion. That’s for a gigawatt of clean BASELOAD power that can, yes, handle NIGHT TIME!

      And how many homes is a gigawatt?

      “One gigawatt of coal-fired capacity can power more than 500,000 average U.S. homes, according to EIA data.”

      The same link tells us that “The United States had 314 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity last year, which provided almost half the nation’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration.”

      So lets say we’re doing 314 AP1000’s at $3.5 billion and that’s America OFF COAL for a clean $1.099 trillion. (You can save that coal for future carbon flushing through iron ore to make steel).

      Now let’s double it to replace oil as well. It’s probably not that much to charge electric cars, because Greenman has linked to reports that claim 80% of USA cars could charge on the EXISTING night shift electricity or off-peak demand. We’ve already cleaned that up with our first trillion, so that’s guilt free electric car charging.

      But lets another trillion dollars for getting some Battery Swap stations or fast-charging garages around America.

      While we’re at it there are all these mining trucks and harvesters and even jets that can’t run on electric batteries, so lets build another trillion dollars worth of synthetic fuel plants for large vehicles and airlines.

      Heck, while we’re at it, let’s put ANOTHER trillion into rail to help get more trucks onto trains and passengers onto rail.

      That’s $4 trillion dollars. And let’s add another $2 trillion for everything I’ve forgotten, like some subsidies for New Urbanism planning and city trolley buses etc.

      How is America going to afford this?

      1. America is pretty soon going to be spending at home rather than buying in oil from overseas countries that don’t like American very much.
      2. American’s currently buy $600 billion of overseas oil annually. That’s $6 trillion a decade!
      3. In other words, you’ll pay for this in 5 years.
      4. After peak oil you’ll either have oil rationing or the price of oil may well double to over a trillion dollars A YEAR of imported oil.
      5. Isn’t it time America started spending that money at home, and getting yourselves off oil ASAP? I tell you that even us little guys down here in Australia don’t want to get pulled into another one of your oil wars!
      6. Heck, let’s forget all my amateur blogger back-of-envelope figures above and say it’s a clean $10 trillion dollars to get off oil, coal, and gas!

      After peak oil when you’re bleeding a $trillion a year buying overseas oil, the question is not how can you afford to build the nukes and EV stations and fast rail but how can you afford NOT to!? Because after a decade you’ll have paid yourselves back and be off that stinking imported oil forever. Your grandchildren will thank you. You’ll have more jobs at home and clean air and better overall health and finally be immune from oil shocks EVER again. You’ll have stopped your economy bleeding as badly. And you’ll have shown Australia that it is possible.

  4. Eclipse Now Says:

    Thanks for your response. Does the Klaus Co2 remover make anything useful out of it? The biochar movement at least takes agriwaste and forestry waste woods & corn stalks & stubble, cooks it up in a low oxygen environment (pyrolysis), and gives us 2 products:
    1. Synthetic gas which shoots out the top of the pyrolysis oven and can be used to run the next biochar burn, with 50% being diverted off for farm use and local energy
    2. BIOCHAR! When returned to the soil, this locks up the carbon back in the soil which provides a habitat for micro-organisms and fungi that suck nitrogen out of the air as they grow. Then when they die, they leave nitrogen in the soil. This can offset about a third of the nitrogen fertilizer, lock up huge amounts of carbon in our soils where it is bringing largely dead industrial soils back to life, and help prepare farm soils for peak phosphorus as well. (But that’s a whole other environmental and resource crisis).

  5. Tim Scanlon Says:

    Fascinating idea. There is a lot of great engineering solutions out there that will have roles to play in our changing energy demands.

    I’ve seen some fantastic renewable energy sources that various engineers have come up with. Most are being used somewhere but don’t get the support that fossil fuels get. As a result the development $$ don’t come to take them to the bigger scale.

    Hope these technologies get the attention they deserve.

  6. Eclipse Now Says:

    Hi Tim, this next idea is better. I’ve waited 7 years for this announcement! Gizmag reports that the solar updraft tower is go go go!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: