There are nearly 18,000 square miles of roads in the U.S., an area that’s bigger than the entire states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts combined.

By some estimates, there are also as many as 2 billion parking spaces.

Since most of that pavement is soaking up sun all day long, a couple of entrepreneurs had an idea: Why not put it to use generating solar power?

The Solar Roadways project, now crowdfunding on Indiegogo, hopes to re-pave the country in custom, glass-covered solar panels that are strong enough to drive on while generating enough power to light the road, melt ice and snow, and send extra energy to cities.

Eventually, if every paved surface was covered in the product, the panels would produce more power than the nation uses.

The project began eight years ago, when founders Scott and Julie Brusaw decided to take a chance on developing an idea that no one thought would work.

"Driving on glass had never been done," says Scott Brusaw. "We had a few big hurdles in the beginning."

"How do you put a traction surface on glass so the first time it rains everybody doesn’t slide off the road? How do you make glass tough enough to withstand the weight of 18-wheelers? What happens if someone’s walking out of Home Depot and drops an 8-pound sledgehammer?"

Glass, it turns out, is stronger than you might think.

It's strong enough to easily withstand cars, fully loaded trucks, and even 250,000-pound oil drilling equipment.

The textured surface means it isn't slippery, and since it can self-power small heaters inside to melt ice in winter, it's supposedly safer than an ordinary road.

At parking lots or rest stops along highways, the panels could power a continuous network of charging stations for electric cars. Eventually, the designers believe it may be possible to charge the cars directly through the road as they drive. In the future, driverless cars could also use the panels to continuously report their location.

2014-05-09

These Solar Roads Could Power The Entire Country

The founders of the Solar Roadways project want to cover every highway in thick, LED-lit glass.

There are nearly 18,000 square miles of roads in the U.S., an area that’s bigger than the entire states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts combined. By some estimates, there are also as many as 2 billion parking spaces. Since most of that pavement is soaking up sun all day long, a couple of entrepreneurs had an idea: Why not put it to use generating solar power?

The Solar Roadways project, now crowdfunding on Indiegogo, hopes to re-pave the country in custom, glass-covered solar panels that are strong enough to drive on while generating enough power to light the road, melt ice and snow, and send extra energy to cities. Eventually, if every paved surface was covered in the product, the panels would produce more power than the nation uses.

The project began eight years ago, when founders Scott and Julie Brusaw decided to take a chance on developing an idea that no one thought would work. "Driving on glass had never been done," says Scott Brusaw. "We had a few big hurdles in the beginning. How do you put a traction surface on glass so the first time it rains everybody doesn’t slide off the road? How do you make glass tough enough to withstand the weight of 18-wheelers? What happens if someone’s walking out of Home Depot and drops an eight-pound sledgehammer?"

Glass, it turns out, is stronger than you might think. "You first mention glass, people think of your kitchen window," Brusaw says. "But think of bulletproof glass or bomb resistant glass. You can make it any way you want. Basically bulletproof glass is several sheets of tempered glass laminated together. That’s what we have, only our glass is a half inch thick, and tempered, and laminated."

It's strong enough to easily withstand cars, fully loaded trucks, and even 250,000-pound oil drilling equipment. The textured surface means it isn't slippery, and since it can self-power small heaters inside to melt ice in winter, it's supposedly safer than an ordinary road. It also powers small LED lights inside that can light up dividing lines and spell out warning messages—if motion sensors detect a deer crossing the road, the lights can automatically tell drivers to slow down.

At parking lots or rest stops along highways, the panels could power a continuous network of charging stations for electric cars. Eventually, the designers believe it may be possible to charge the cars directly through the road as they drive. In the future, driverless cars could also use the panels to continuously report their location.

Since the whole road is wired, it's also easy to maintain: If one panel stops working, all of the other panels around it call a local repair shop with the exact location. "A guy can come out and repair it in five minutes," Brusaw says. "Compare that to pothole repair."

Using the $1 million they hope to raise on Indiegogo, the company plans to hire more engineers and continue refining the current product, testing it first on parking lots and smaller roads before moving on to highways across the entire country. Hunting down the funding to cover the U.S. (or even a significant portion) in solar roadways, however, will be an insanely big challenge.

[Image: Dan Walden]

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23 Comments

  • dswartz44

    This is a BRILLIANT solution! Are there other ways to go about doing it? Sure! Instead of cheering on someone who's trying to do something for the environment and man's insatiable need for electricity you all "poo-poo" the idea and think up a 100 different things that could go wrong with it. My goodness people, it is solar power--there's already a ton of electricity all around most major freeways anyway so why is everyone all upset that there'd be more power around us? At least this power would be on the road, in the ground and not hanging up on poles where the wind can snatch the lines and snap them in two! And this solution, no matter how much it costs, is RENEWABLE PEOPLE! Even if it takes a hundred years to repay, it will eventually be repaid and during that 100 years there are no more coal or gas powered electrical power stations running and polluting the air! It's not the "be all and end all" power solution, but it sure as heck goes a long way towards helping solve the problem!

  • This is one of the worst ideas to ever excite the renewable energy community.

    Please, lets stop embarrassing ourselves.

    Read up on quality analysis that has been done by the economists, scientists and engineers out there. These people may have good intentions, but the claims being made border on fraudalent and its an embarrassment that we are wasting over a million dollars supporting them on indigogo.

    That million would be better spent installing working solar panels on people's roof tops.

  • Damon Shea

    Besides recycling materials needed in a project of this magnitude, where would all the rest of the material come from in order to make this project happen? I like this idea a lot and get excited with what this could mean if the project was to expand all around the world. My only concern would be how much mining would need to happen to get the metals etc needed for the fibre optics, electrical and so on. In an already stressed environment this could either be the solution or only add to the problem. In response to this freak'n cool idea, I would hope the solution.

  • Michael SeePhotography

    There is enough waste from industries alone that would allow to make this project viable. In my city (a steel mill city) we have over 2 billion tons of waste to get rid of a year, and that is just in the port area. That doesn't include the waste from the homes or commercial business's. Most cities have the materials needed to do this, and no mining is needed. The panels are made with recyclable materials. Glass, metal etc. It wouldn't cause any stress on the environment. The bonus part of it, it would create brand new industry and that means jobs and a stronger local economy.

  • You are right to be concerned about the ecological harm of mining. These solar road tiles would make a number of other ecological harms necessary - such as using lots of electricity at night to keep the roads lit up, and using electricity to heat the roads during a snowstorm. There many other issues, too. These solar roads are a really bad idea, when you look at it really thoroughly.

  • dswartz44

    Hey idiots--you said "--such as using lot of electricity at night to keep the roads lit up, and using electricity to heat the roads during a snowstorm"....HELLLOOOOOO---it powers ITSELF stupid! It's S-O-L-A-R P-O-W-E-R-E-D, you know, like from the sun. Any power it uses it generates itself from the sun--kind of the whole point of it! Plus, because there's so much power being generated it enables coal & natural gas powered electrical plants to shut down as they would not be needed any longer. Are you both really that thick in the skull that you did not know this--didn't put this together in your little minds??

  • Jacinta Lawson

    Where is all the water gonna go when they melt during a severe snow storm. The other day a wire was lose in an electrically monitored pool and people kept getting shock. I guess all of this is figured out and if a pothole ever gets away with being a pot hole what is the result...

  • Jacinta Lawson

    Oh it is just solar energy I guess solar energy if it escapes in large quantity does not shock. I guess if an accident happens all that people would get is burned.

  • Is this sarcasm? Solar energy can kill you just as easily as any other kind of energy.

    You raise a real concern in your other post. These tiles present unique dangers which must be address, and it will be VERY expensive to address them.

    We are much better off using pavement for roads and putting solar panels on our roof tops.

  • Jon-Paul Broom

    Excuse my naivety on the subject but does it have to be glass? Could it be transparent plastics of some sort to keep down costs. Even recycled plastics?

  • Jacinta Lawson

    Yea and maybe I am wrong but the heat makes me think of electricity and plastic does not conduct electricity but I guess plastic melts faster than glass.

  • Wonderful, i wish my country #Belize could be contacted and see if it could work in our country.

    Signed by: Veronique McKenzie - Belize Vaction Specialist @cttbelize and Marketing Manager at ZIBC Belize Business Center https://twitter.com/ZIBCbz Virtual Office in Belize.

    Thanks

  • Bla-bla-bla. There is also 20x more of nice and sunny desert in USA.

    Much cheaper to run new lines from deserts to existing grid that create engineering nightmare on the roads!

    You need just mechanical engineering common sense to know the cost of infrastructure that needs to survive 80,000 lbs truck traffic or winter conditions in almost half of the US.

    Let me know how to get the reporter to cover my slum dunk $100 billion dollar Music Industry.

  • Much cheaper to run new lines from deserts to existing grid that create engineering nightmare on the roads!

    Yes, yes, and yes. Solar roadways are a terrible, terrible idea. I wish all of this excitement and enthusaism was directed towards something that will work, like solar farms or solar tiles. Even an orbiting solar collecting sattelite is more feasible, by comparison.

  • Cameron Singh

    Sustainable/renewable energy mega projects such as these can be insanely expensive and time consuming. The quick cost recovery can be amazingly efficient, once all these are in place, and conceivably pay for itself many times over, in short order. It may even be possible to generate and capture energy with a combination of frictional/wind energy recovery systems from all the traffic on low solar output days. This would be a backup energy coupling resource until it gets big enough to fly on its own merits. Who knows where all this could lead to with driverless cars and other techno applications in the next decade, check Elon Musk's ultra high speed elevated/encapsulated people mover? Fascinating ideology on the verge of reality, that engages the mind in a myriad of ways it hasn't before.

  • Be aware that the promoters of the solar roadways are NOT being honest about the feasibilities, costs, and disadvantages.

    Research the viewpoints of the critics of this project, as well!

  • Love the idea - way to make a positive out of the negative that are all the blacktop spaces we have created. A couple of questions though - how would it handle snow plows in the winter, people driving with chains on their tires, and does the solar capacity still function if covered by ice? Another concern - which I am sure the founders are working on - is the efficiency of the solar cells given the intermittent nature of the sunlight (i.e. as cars drive over the pavement).

    One last question - where do I sign up?