Real solar roadways

Green Lifestyle online

Could this amazing invention that’s recently gone viral actually help to create a greener planet?


Credit: Indiegogo/YouTube

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It's World Environment Day today! So, what better way to look forward to the future than to discuss a clever video for a Indiegogo campaign has brought an invention from 2007 to mainstream attention?

The video for the campaign, solar freakin' roadways, suggests a second use of all the space currently covered in the bitumen, asphalt and concrete used for our roads, carparks, driveways, bikepaths, pathways and more – instead suggesting they should be covered with their fancy, practical, heavy-duty solar panels.

The hexagonal panels are inlaid with LED-light displays that can be programmed for a range of functions, anything from street parades and sporting events, to alerts for highway obstructions such as wildlife crossing, vehicle accidents, landslides or fallen trees. In addition, the panels could be programmed help to melt snow and ice on roads.

The inventors Julie and Scott Brusaw from Idaho, say the panels are able to withstand high impact from sports, machinery, and up to 125 tonne-trucks, but that the next step should be installing them on private driveways and carparks.

The potential green benefits for society would be quite mind-blowing. The campaigners in the US claim that "a nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than a country uses as a whole", having a monumental reduction on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a national network would allow more people to own and drive electric vehicles, like the Holden Holt that we reviewed last month.

Since the crowd-funding campaign was launched at the end of April this year, almost $2 million has been raised. Watch the video for "the roadway of the future" below:

Before you get too excited, there are many reasons why the realities of above video are just not possible on this large-scale. Even the small-scale version of solar roadways are a long way off, if possible at all.

Of course there have been more than a few sceptics along the way, and then there are the sceptics of those sceptics as conspiracy theorists suggest this negativity is coming from the most powerful industries. Sure, a healthy level of scepticism is great, but with a bit of knowledge, making up your own mind is easy...

The independent video below is not funded by vested corporate interests. Thunderf00t is funded by the watchers themselves, talking on everything from a Thorium-powered car, to looking at the safety of powdered alcohol. This video questions the safety, durability and cost of solar roadways, and gives realistic explanations for doubting the campaign:

For starters, some of the most convincing arguments against solar roadways are to do with wear, leading to lack of traction properties, meaning their use on highways is just too dangerous to consider. Over time, they just won't be able to host heavy trucks that need to stop suddenly. Roads get covered in dirt and oil, so they solar panels would need to be cleaned to work, which would cause them to wear faster.

During the day, the LEDs on solar panels just aren't visible enough under sunlight, nor are they visible from above. Plus, asphalt is cheap, and it's made from a by-product of the oil industry, and up to 99 per cent of it is reused or recycled. Then there's the fact that tiles tend to crack in the middle, so we can't expect to replace our current roadways with hexagons anytime soon. And, powerlines haven't been buried often because it's much more expensive than having overhead-hanging ones that can be easily accessed.

The idea of crippling the snowplough industry might seem ideal, but for those familiar with the laws of thermodynamics (think principles of passive solar homes) it requires a huge amount of energy to melt ice. Heating our homes in winter is tough enough, let along heating up our roads. Less energy is used moving snow to the side of the road than it to melt it.

Using the solar panels on carparks also sounds advantageous, but the truth is, cars are sitting over them most of the time. It'd be a better idea to put $2 million towards putting solar-covered shelters on carparks that can generate energy for lights to shine down at night, and have easy access for maintenance. One impressive invention is flexible solar-powered shadecloths, such as ShadePlex.

There are many reasons why government funding for solar roadways has stopped. A lot of very clever people have suggested that it'd be better to put the solar panels next to the roads, not on them.

Sure, it's a great idea, and that's where innovation and ideas come from, but before this project can be brought to the next step, it's worth thinking about where it could feasibly be used. It could be wonderful in some places, like making bike paths and street parades much more exciting.

Coal-fired power plants and concrete companies are some of the highest polluting industries in the world, so even a minimal reduction in their demand would lead greenies around the world to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, the large-scale change that the solar freakin' roadways video claims just aren't going to happen with this invention. Sorry. But to all the big dreamers, don't give up, because our best creative ideas come from great ideas, and we do have to start somewhere. And a couple of safe, green solar panels is always a great start!