Posts Tagged ‘solar roadways’

When you ask most people what they think of solar power, they image rooftops covered in panels, and talk of going green. However, if you ask a government or private scientist what they think of solar power, you might get a very different answer. Give these guys enough time and money, and they’ll come up with some pretty mind blowing applications for the modest solar cell.  Solar PV technology isn’t just becoming for affordable for existing applications, it’s also being contemplated for a variety of new uses.

Space Based Solar Power

Space Based Solar Power

One of the most cutting edge ideas in the solar world is the concept of Space Based Solar Power (SBSP). The concept involves launching huge solar arrays into space, where the sun is always shining at 100% intensity. Most designs involve a set of mirrors that collect solar radiation, and then condense it on to a super efficient lower orbit solar PV array. Once the energy is collected, its beamed down to Earth in the form of microwaves. A massive rectenna on earth, about 10km in diameter, receives the energy and converts it back to electricity. This set-up could produce more than 1GW of power, or about as much as the average nuclear power plant. While the technology exists to make this a reality, its wildly expensive because of the high cost of launching anything into space.

Along the same line of thought is the creation of laser solar satellites. These little guys collect solar energy from PV cells, and then blast it back to Earth in the form of a high powered laser. Each device produces about 1 to 10MW, so it would take an army of them to power a good sized city. In fact, the military has been quite interested in this technology for a long time. The idea of being able to instantly fry something from space has made people skeptical of developing this technology further.

Transparent Solar Cells

Transparent Solar Cells

A more peaceful, and ultimately more profitable idea, comes in the form of see-through solar power windows. A company called New Energy Technologies has created tiny, transparent, spray on solar cells that can be applied to windows. New Energy estimates that out fitting a building with electricity generating glass windows would only increase the cost of construction by about 10%. Developing a way to retrofit existing buildings with this product could usher in a new wave of the solar revolution. It could come sooner than people think too. There are a lot of companies and agencies all over the world working on this exact type of technology.

And of course there’s Solar Roadways, which you can read about in our previous post.

While all of these technologies are pretty futuristic, there is a true possibility of making them mainstream. With the right policies and funding, a world powered by extraterrestrial solar, sun fueled lasers, and self-generating buildings could be a reality.

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A new technology – solar roadways – has emerged that has the potential for powering the entire United States 3 times over for each year it is in service, along with reducing 75% of greenhouse gases the US produces. With over 31,000 sq miles of roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and bike paths connecting the US, converting the surface areas into solar roadways is the ambitious and creative solution that creators Julie and Scott Brunsaw have proposed to solve the energy problems we face today and ahead of us.

solar roadways

Julie and Scott Brunsaw, creators of the Solar Roadways

Scott Brunsaw is an electrical engineer based in Idaho with his wife and solar roadway partner, Julie. Scott thought of this idea when he was younger and dreamed of a world that was futuristic and sustainable. First hand experience working in an oil company grew his drive to build a practical solar road.  Now, he and his wife have made the technology a reality.

The solar roadway panel itself is in a hexagonal shape that is designed to last a minimum of 20 years. It is covered in a snow and ice resistant, durable glass that is capable of supporting 250,000 lbs of weight and is equipped with programmable LED lights to easily light up the road. A parking lot-size prototype has been built with funding from the Federal Highway Administration and through a public funding initiative that has raised close to $150,000,000 through Indigogo.com.

solar roadwaysInside each of the solar panels are hi-tech microprocessing chips covered in a tempered glass that is capable of heating the panels to a few degrees above freezing to keep snow and ice off of the roads, making them safer and eliminating the need for snow plows. The microprocessing chips can also detect weight and can be programmed to illuminate the LED lights in the panels to show road lines, animals crossing, hazards on the road and more. The panels themselves are made up of mostly recycled material and are attached to a cable corridor that lines up alongside the road which is where the power lines and fiber optics are stored. More about the specs and benefits of solar roadways can be found watching this entertaining video.

solar roadwaysWhy this is so important to the US and the world can be seen in multiple statistics of our current energy situation. In 2011, the United States’ energy sources for electricity were made up of 91% non renewable resources such as coal, petroleum, natural gas, and nuclear, with only 9% made up of renewable resources. With energy production contributing to 79% of greenhouse gas emissions, the US is in dire need of a new energy source to not only lower its contribution to global pollution, but also to act as an example to developing countries who are building their infrastructure. If an idea like solar roads were to be adopted by the most powerful country in the world, it would have a tremendously positive effect on the globe including cutting a significant amount of transportation emissions, creating new jobs to build the new infrastructure, help reduce dependence on foreign oil, and provide access to a  large renewable energy resource.

The positive potential for this project is very high, but it comes with great costs including an investment of up to $56 trillion to cover 29,000 sq miles of US roadways, electrical grid updates that allow for a greater electricity capacity, along with much more research and testing that needs to be done. Although the upfront costs are significant, solar roadways would pay for themselves as well as generate excess revenue. With more support and research, solar roadways could turn into the next big thing that could solve the energy crisis for the US.



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