Is This The World’s First Solar Road?
The United States is overly dependent on fossil fuels. In the past decade, the U.S. contributed 19% of the global carbon dioxide emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels. Shifts in the understanding of greenhouse gas emissions place an imperative focus on alternative forms of energy. In 2012, electricity and transportation accounted for approximately 32% and 28% of GHGs, respectively. American highways and roads are not only outdated (using the same methods and materials for the past 100 years), but they are also environmentally toxic. Living within 300–500 feet of a major highway creates a higher exposure to air pollutants, which may contribute to health issues such as asthma, heart disease, and even premature death. The natural environment bordering highways also suffers. Runoff is responsible for 50% of water pollution in the United States. Is there any way that we can utilize a renewable energy source to address such diverse and overwhelming issues simultaneously?
Husband and wife team, Scott and Julie Brusaw, believe one solution lies in solar powered roadways. Through their company in Sandpoint, Idaho named simply, Solar Roadways, the Brusaws have turned their vision into reality. Since 2006, they have been designing and engineering solar paneling that can be utilized as any surface. They have conceptualized roads made of solar paneling grids that will turn the sun’s energy into electricity. The electricity would be transported through underground Cable Corridors powering businesses, homes, and even electric. These Cable Corridors would also have a storage, treatment, and transportation feature to treat storm water and runoff. Internal LED capabilities would provide road lines, signs, and even animal crossing warnings on the road. Heating elements in the glass interface would be crucial in the winter months, melting snow and ice. The paneling is built with impressive durability and traction. Solar Roadways will be able to support up to 250,000 pounds, meaning utilizing this technology in highway infrastructure is feasible. The roads are expected to pay for themselves with the amount of electricity that they could produce. The benefits of decreasing the burning of fossil fuels and creating jobs to support the further development and implementation of this breakthrough technology is priceless.
Solar Roadways has garnered increasing support over the past few years with donations from 165 countries and two phases of funding from the Federal Highway Administration. They have also been awarded several honors including the Top 100 Greatest Innovations of 2014 from Popular Science and the 2010 GE Ecomagination Challenge Community Award. So far, several parking lots, sidewalks and even a train station platform have been built with this technology in Idaho. The project is currently in Phase 2 of the Prototype, which was the construction of a fully functional parking lot. This parking lot, located by the corporate headquarters in Sandpoint, will be monitored closely and tested rigorously over time and under different weather conditions. The results of this prototype will help lay the foundation for modifications and future prototypes in the coming years. The Solar Roadways technology is still in the early stages of production and development, however, the potential positive impact on the renewable energy industry, public health benefits and infrastructure development opportunities is promising. A nationwide system of solar roadways is predicted to produce more energy than the United States currently requires, giving hope for a brighter and more sustainable future.
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