Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer in Idaho, also the founder of Solar Roadways, (that we’ve written about earlier this month) has come up with an interesting idea that might just catch up if some key issues will be solved: making roads out of solar cells that would produce electricity and pay for themselves.
Usually implemented on rooftops and specially-designed areas, the solar panels can theoretically be put anywhere there is sunlight. Having in mind that electric cars evolve every year and there will be plenty of them in a short time, the need for electric charging spots along highways will be increasing steadily.
According to an article in the New Scientist, citing some numbers from the American Geophysical Union, highways and open-air parking lots in the lower 48 US states make up for more than 100,000 square kilometers of surface area.
If implemented in that amount of space, 15 percent efficient (considered moderate) solar cells having 3.7 square meters each would produce 7.6 kilowatt-hours of energy a day. This figure is calculated using an average of 4 hours of sunlight per day. Brusaw proposed 3.7 square meters because that’s the US interstate highway standard lane width.
PV cells are usually fragile devices, shattering at the smallest mechanical forces. Making them withstand the weight of cars and trucks really is a challenge that could be solved by lying thin film PV material onto flexible plastic and laminate it onto glass toughened by borrowing tricks used to make it bullet and blast-proof.
One more issue would be that the vehicles would have to have the same grip they have on normal asphalt. Also, they would have to preserve the solar cell’s efficiency. This could be achievable by making the surface from thousands of tiny prisms that would help the grip, the strength of the cell and the efficiency in low light conditions.
Such road-implemented solar panel, with all necessary equipment would cost $10,000 per panel, that is 4 times the normal asphalt, but the fact that it pays for itself is a relief. A lot of research has to be done before finding the perfect solution. The idea stays good, though.