By Jake Willette
As time progresses the need for energy is ever increasing, prompting new inventions and methods to solve the potential energy crisis to come. A number of measures are being taken such as nuclear fusion projects, tidal energy, and further revolutionary ideas are being developed to combat this issue. Another one of these methods is solar roadways. Across the nation there are numerous, vast stretches of flat roadways with some exposed for more than 90% of the day. By combining traditional solar cells with the concept of a conventional roadway there is an incomprehensible potential for harvesting massive amounts of solar energy while also creating a safer driving environment. This technology could be the greatest invention in the power field with the ability to eliminate carbon emissions, revolutionize global warming efforts, and change the world.
Solar roadways consist of three layers, a hexagonal tempered glass surface, the solar cells, and the power delivery system connecting the entire unit. These units are capable of generating clean energy, protecting the environment, and significantly reducing the frequency of repairs and maintenance when compared to traditional asphalt.
Currently, traffic accumulates most commonly during the mornings and late afternoons. When sunlight intensity is the highest, solar panel roadways are able to generate an immense amount of energy which would make the project worthwhile. Along with energy generation, solar roads carry a number of benefits that will create a safer environment to drive in including LED indicators on the road, warming capabilities to melt ice in the winter, and a reduced demand for reconstruction as solar roadways last on average 21 years without replacement . Having a longer lifetime than current roads makes the concept more attractive to communities as less road work is needed leading to a fewer number of road closures, creating a smoother road system that also provides green energy. One small but significant benefit of solar roads is a reduction in the surface temperature of the roads, with glass being about 10°C cooler, reducing heat released into the atmosphere.
Current asphalt roads are dirty, prone to high pollution, and require significant work to remain operational, often needing quarterly patching or replacing. With dirt, grime and other substances, cleaning will be relatively easy as autonomous electric cleaning vehicles, powered by the roads themselves, can be dispatched from a multitude of locations at a moments notice if a section of the road becomes too dirty for operation. Similarly, traditional asphalt roadways create an extensive amount of pollution throughout their lifecycle, but the impact on the environment through producing the asphalt, creating the roads, and maintaining its integrity is lower than the pollution caused by sourcing the materials, creating the compounds, and the lifetime of the asphalt on the roads. This cycle can be eliminated through the use of solar roadways, and while they still have an environmental impact during production, it dwarfs in comparison to the amount generated by traditional asphalt. Additionally, solar roads can help the environment through its ability to support the use of Electric vehicles (EV). EV’s are becoming increasingly prominent due to government incentives, along with stylish looks leading many to transition to electric. This increase in EV will lead to a drop in exhaust emission creating a cleaner environment on the road surface and in the air in general. This, along with environmentally conscious roads, will lead to a future where the energy demands of the world are being met in a clean way while also protecting the environment. Extra energy produced by the roadways can be allocated to EV charging hubs across the country, ensuring that all who drive EVs have reliable stations in nearly every part of the US.
Solar roads is an incredibly ambitious project that would require significant funding, support, and time to reach its full potential. Passing these roadblocks would lead to a revolution in energy generation reaching a fully clean energy generation era. The durability in the tempered glass is much greater than that of asphalt, additionally its modular design allows for easy repairs cutting down interruptions and traffic that is nearly everywhere. Traditional asphalt roadways create extensive pollution throughout their lifecycle. This specific pollution cycle can be eliminated through the use of solar roadways, and while they still have an environmental impact, it pales in comparison to the amount generated by traditional asphalt. The pure energy generated from these panels, along with its snow melting ability, integrated LEDs, and durability clearly are advantageous over traditional roads. Cost is a major obstacle, however by slowly implementing them throughout larger cities, it could result in a profit over the years of installation. By taking this path fossil fuels will be phased out; ensuring a clean future for the following generations and securing the earth as a habitable, lush environment for years to come.
Figure 1: The drawing above represents the hexagonal panel design with each component illustrated and labeled.