Engineers at Solar Roadways, a renewable energy start-up based in Idaho, have completed a prototype for a multi-layered, energy-generating road surface. The company says that when installed, Solar Roadway would generate and store energy through photovoltaic (PV) cells, each cell capable of managing it’s own electricity generation, storage and distribution. The energy could be used to heat the road during a snowstorm, control lighting and displays via LED lighting, or help distribute additional signals such as phone and internet through a base plate layer featuring microprocessors. A translucent, high-strength surface layer would protect the electronics from the traffic and weather above.
There are lots of inevitable questions to follow up on the concept: sustainability aside, how cheap would PV panels and LED lights have to be to make this a cost-effective replacement for petroleum-based asphalt? With each cell being an individual unit, how would maintenance and replacement work? The ambition and optimism of Solar Roadways is impressive (see their list of benefits, proposals for use in military applications and global communications), though implementation seems a little hazy at this stage. Still, it’s great that people are reflecting creatively on the sustainability of roads.
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