Solar Roadways: Turning Pavement into PowerCommodities / Solar Energy Jun 06, 2014 - 10:35 AM GMT
Dr. Kent Moors writes: If you haven’t heard of Scott and Julie Brusaw yet, chances are you will before too long.
They are the founders of a crowd-funded idea that may just revolutionize both transportation and energy.
It is the coolest idea I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s so inventive it could flat-out change everything we think about power.
In fact, the U.S. government has taken the Brusaw’s idea seriously enough to provide them with a small pilot grant, and a crowd-funding effort has raised almost $2 million from individuals all across the country.
Their idea is nothing less than to create “solar roadways”…
Solar Panels You Can Drive On
The idea is this: To turn America’s roads into power-generating solar panels. This approach could generate three times our annual energy needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by some 75%.
The vision here is mind blowing. Better yet, the technology to make it all happen is already available. And while “solar roadways” may start with small demonstration projects, the greater objective is the biggest energy target you are likely ever to see.
In fact, the entertaining video used in the investment pitch for this idea has virtually gone viral. You may have already seen it. At last count over six million people have watched it.
It can be found at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-roadways. The idea is billed as “Solar panels that you can drive, park, and walk on.”
Now I hasten to add that this video and the accompanying information is an investment pitch for a private initiative. Do not invest at this point. There are still too many ways this can fall on its face.
Because when it comes to game-changing new ideas in renewable energy, there are a number of hurdles involved. And if you are also proposing to change the very fabric of how we get around, that might take even longer.
Nonetheless, it remains one of the most striking examples of the entrepreneurial drive I have ever witnessed.
As the indiegogo pitch notes:
“Solar Roadways is a modular paving system of solar panels that can withstand the heaviest of trucks (250,000 pounds). These Solar Road Panels can be installed on roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, bike paths, playgrounds… literally any surface under the sun. They pay for themselves primarily through the generation of electricity, which can power homes and businesses connected via driveways and parking lots. A nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than a country uses as a whole.
The panels have many other features as well, including: heating elements to stay snow/ice free, LEDs to make road lines and signage, and an attached Cable Corridor to store and treat storm water and provide a “home” for power and data cables. EVs (electric vehicles) will be able to charge with energy from the sun (instead of fossil fuels) from parking lots and driveways and after a roadway system is in place, mutual induction technology will allow for charging while driving.”
Of course, critics point out that the process will be extraordinarily expensive. Asphalt, after all, is cheap. Solar panels are not. And economics will go a long way to determining whether anything eventually comes of this idea.
Yet, on the plus side, the technology is already available and the entire concept has been well thought out and impressively visualized.
Take a look at the video and make your own judgment. This idea could just make the phrase “Made in America” take on a whole new meaning.
Thinking Outside of the Box
Of course, I have commented on new developments in energy efficiency and renewables in OEI on numerous occasions. Many of the advances headed our way are likely to make an impact somewhere down the line. Others are more of a technical nature, filling in a gap here or taking a necessary step there.
It’s all fascinating stuff, but at the moment it’s not about to change how you design a short-term energy investment strategy.
Yet the sheer number of “breakthroughs” comparable to the “solar road” is rather impressive.
For example, just consider these innovative new ideas for a moment…
A research project at Grand Valley State University’s energy center in Muskegon, Mich., has developed a new laminated glass they call “Suntuitive.” It works by placing a thermochromic (color changes with temperature) interlayer between window panes.
This interlayer adapts passively to direct sunlight, can enhance indoor comfort and day lighting while blocking heat generated from sunlight, glare and ultraviolet light without window shades or other sun-blocking devices.
“Suntuitive” requires no electrical or mechanical assistance. Needless to say, its widespread use would make a significant dent in the energy usage across a range of structures.
Then there is what they are up to in a lab at the University of California Riverside. Their ongoing research is one of several heralded developments in energy storage that may usher in a whole new generation of applications.
At UC Riverside, the attention is on supercapacitors.
Unlike conventional batteries, which store electrical power by converting electrical into chemical energy, supercapacitors essentially hang “extra” electrons on their molecular surface, which allows for much faster charging and discharging times.
The hang up here has always been that the storage capacity of supercapacitors is limited by their “energy density.” They just don’t have enough surface area on which to hang additional electrons.
At UC Riverside they have been experimenting with new materials to get around this surface limitation. One of them uses graphene, an artificial form of carbon with a staggering amount of surface area on the subatomic scale. This has resulted in a new nanotechnology that is already providing twice the power of commercially available supercapacitors.
Given that the approach requires graphene foam and the use of rare metals like ruthenium, there are some serious price problems with this method. But research is ongoing to apply other materials.
Both of these are excellent examples of the tried and true “one step at a time” slow progress of scientific experimentation. It begins with slow prodding. Then one day there is a massive discovery and it’s off to the races.
As the Brusaws and so many other innovativors show, it’s amazing what you can achieve when you’re willing to think outside the box.
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