Over the past few weeks, news of a radically different approach to infrastructure and power generation has spread through the media. The project is called Solar Roadways and its aiming to create just that: solar-cell interlocking road tiles capable of replacing parking lots, driveways, and roads in almost any environmental conditions.
The tiles are hexagonal and include imbedded LED lights, a high-efficiency solar panel, and an incredibly strong glass-like casing that meets all current load-bearing requirements. When put together, the tiles allow for a locked cable corridor on the side of each road that carries the current to a power distribution centre. Other cables like data, TV, and phone lines can also use this channel, which would be locked and accessible to utility companies. As if that’s not enough, the team plans to construct the tiles using recycled materials from landfills.
The promise of this development is incredibly bright. The developers estimate that if every major road in America was replaced with this system, it would produce three times the entire energy consumption of the country. Imbedded cables mean no more unsightly, expensive, and damage-prone raised wiring. Programmable LED lighting means highway safety will be enhanced through highly visible lines and information, and potentially warnings about wandering wildlife or other road hazards like fallen trees. The project developers are even looking at ways to allow the roads to charge cars while they drive, which will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The tiles can also include a heating element, which will keep roads clear of ice and snow in colder climates without the need for salt or plows. The tiles are incredibly durable, but even if they do break or malfunction, fixing the road is a simple matter of popping out the old tile and replacing it with a new one. Reduced road maintenance will mean fewer construction delays and a smoother flow of traffic.
Even without adoption into the highway system, the project is still set to be a major game-changer. School yard game courts, for example, can change purpose instantly by programming the LED system to display the appropriate lines for basketball, road hockey, or tennis. Concert venues can charge during the day and create a kaleidoscopic dance floor at night. Driveways and walking paths will never need to be shoveled, and will help generate power for homes.
It will likely be a long time before we see these roads in the wild, especially given the ferocity of anti-green and oil-industry lobbyists in the US (though some prominent voices have already spoken up in favour of the project). It is even less likely that we’ll see projects like this in the Global South. However, changing the paradigm in the North may one day lead to wider adoption, particularly when mass-production lowers the cost of each panel.
Add this to Google’s new driverless car, and we may be witnessing a completely new way to think about travel.
The team is currently running an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign to support research and development. Find out more and contribute here.
The project’s website has additional information, including some must-see (and fun!) videos. Below is a TEDx talk presented by the project’s developer, Scott Brusaw. I first learned of this project from this article at IFL Science. Look here for more articles on innovative solar projects.