Solar roadway forms decentralised power grid

Could our roads be the answer to environmentally-friendly living? One couple in Idaho thinks so.

Scott and Julie Brusaw have created a prototype for durable DIY driveway tiles that are fitted with solar panels. The tiles are heated in winter, to remove any ice or snow that may be covering the solar panels, and have 126 LED lights built into each of them to serve as driveway markers, or to display messages.

The tiles are hexagonal, which allows for flexibility over hills and around corners. They’re surfaced with an impact resistant glass, can sustain a 250,000 pound load, and have equal or better traction than a tarmac surface in all conditions. To demonstrate its durability, Scott Brusaw uploaded a video of him driving a tractor over the solar driveway.

Right now, the majority of our transportation network relies on fossil fuels. We deplete our resources when we build our roads, when we use them, and when we maintain them. Scott and Julie envision using our transportation infrastructure becoming a decentralised power grid, where surfaces like roads, driveways, and sidewalks are all covered with electricity-generating panels. They estimate that the average town has enough sealed square footage to generate more than enough electricity for average residential and commercial use, if the pavement was changed to solar tiles.

The excess energy could go into powering motor vehicles and sustaining a digital infrastructure that communicates with fibre optics. Below is an artist’s rendition of what Sandpoint, Idaho, could look like with solar roadways.

It’s fascinating to say the least. In New Zealand alone, there is 94,160 km of sealed road, covering approximately 847,440,000 square meters. If 50% percent of those roads were covered with solar tiles, we’d have a 423.72 square km solar farm, which is 17 times bigger than the world’s largest solar power plant in California. It would generate about 18,632 GWh of power annually, which is a little under half of what New Zealand as a country consumes every year, at 38,564 GWh. Add sidewalks and rooftops to that, and we’d be able to begin shutting down some of our power plants.

That would make New Zealand the greenest country on earth, and it would solve a myriad of political issues.

To fund the project, Scott and Julie have received two large government grants, and have just launched an IndieGoGo campaign seeking $1 million USD. The money they receive will go into engineering the cells to be more efficient, and developing local factories which will create the tiles to be used in local areas, thus creating more local jobs worldwide.

There is no indication yet as to how much they’re expected to cost, but Scott and Julie say that, over their lifetimes, each tile will pay for itself with the electricity it produces.

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