Environment

Solar Roadways installs energy harvesting parking lot

Solar Roadways installs energy...
Scott and Julie Brusaw relax on the new parking lot
Scott and Julie Brusaw relax on the new parking lot
View 11 Images
Close up of the Solar Roadways parking lot shows the detail of the toughened glass surface
1/11
Close up of the Solar Roadways parking lot shows the detail of the toughened glass surface
The build site before ground breaking
2/11
The build site before ground breaking
A section in the installation's Cable Corridor has been included to store, treat and redistribute storm water
3/11
A section in the installation's Cable Corridor has been included to store, treat and redistribute storm water
The first hexagonal panels are installed outside the Solar Roadways electronics lab
4/11
The first hexagonal panels are installed outside the Solar Roadways electronics lab
A new hexagonal road panel was revealed in July 2013
5/11
A new hexagonal road panel was revealed in July 2013
Almost completed, the final road panels are put in place
6/11
Almost completed, the final road panels are put in place
The first photos of the now operational Solar Roadways parking lot were released at the end of March 2014
7/11
The first photos of the now operational Solar Roadways parking lot were released at the end of March 2014
Each of the new panels features PV cells and circuit boards, 128 programmable LEDs, a heating element to help deal with ice and snow, and are topped with "super-strength" textured glass
8/11
Each of the new panels features PV cells and circuit boards, 128 programmable LEDs, a heating element to help deal with ice and snow, and are topped with "super-strength" textured glass
The Solar Roadways parking lot gets poodle approved
9/11
The Solar Roadways parking lot gets poodle approved
The heating element of the panels on the left is switched off, but powered on in the panels on the right
10/11
The heating element of the panels on the left is switched off, but powered on in the panels on the right
Scott and Julie Brusaw relax on the new parking lot
11/11
Scott and Julie Brusaw relax on the new parking lot

About 8 years ago, an electrical engineer and his counselor wife started throwing around an idea to replace asphalt on highways and byways throughout the US with electricity-producing solar panels that were tough enough to be driven upon. The idea blossomed into a project, where the panels featured built-in LEDs that could "paint the road" with markings and warnings, and could be heated to prevent snow and ice build up. The US Federal Highway Administration paid for the couple to produce a working prototype, which they did, and then again to expand the concept into an operational parking lot setup. As the latter contract comes to an end, the Solar Roadways project has released photos of the (almost) completed installation at its Idaho electronics lab. Now the team is dipping into crowd-funding waters with a campaign to raise funds for the move into commercial production.

Many roads, highways, parking lots or driveways can spend much their daytime unused. Sunlight can even break through gridlock to the road below. In 2006, Scott and Julie Brusaw hatched a plan to make use of all that untapped energy by replacing asphalt with toughened PV panels that would also include embedded lighting to act as road markings and driver alerts, as well as communication and power cables to replace overhead lines. The project received funding from the US Dept of Transportation to the tune of US$100,000 in August 2009, and work began on the first proof-of-concept prototype.

By February 2010, the first 12 x 12 ft (3.7 x 3.7 m) road panel (made up of 16 smaller connected panels) was ready, complete with embedded LEDs that could be programmed to deliver custom messages. The proof-of-concept Phase I prototype didn't include any PV cells and lacked the custom-hardened glass with integrated heating element for the upper face, but it served to demonstrate that the proposed electronics worked as promised. The team also built smaller crosswalk panels featuring load cells to test a pedestrian/wildlife detection mechanism, which would flash instructions to slow down when a weight was detected on the surface.

Around this time, Scott Brusaw was invited to give a TED talk in Sacramento (which is worth a watch as it details much of the project's inspiration, history and aims), and the project went on to win first prize in two of GE's Ecomagination challenges.

The first hexagonal panels are installed outside the Solar Roadways electronics lab
The first hexagonal panels are installed outside the Solar Roadways electronics lab

After entertaining the world media circus for a while, and traveling around the country to deliver talks on the project, funding was secured in June of 2011 for the second phase of development – to create fully functional parking lot.

Work on the electronics began immediately, and a site next to the electronics lab prepared for ground breaking. The Brusaws and their small, but dedicated, team of volunteers revealed a new hexagonal road panel design in July 2013, that would allow them "to handle curves easily and we designed the shape, macro and micro textures for stability, traction, strength." The first batch of the completed new panels were ready for installation and testing by September.

Spin forward to the end of last month, and the first photos of the now operational Solar Roadways parking lot were released. Each of the new panels features PV cells and circuit boards, 128 programmable LEDs, a heating element to help deal with ice and snow, and are topped with "super-strength" textured glass (which has exceeded expectations in load, traction and impact resistance testing).

"Half of our prototype parking lot is mono-crystalline, while the other half is poly-crystalline," Julie Brusaw told Gizmag. "The parking lot is equivalent to a 3600-watt solar array. The power collected is dependent upon the amount of sunshine received. So as with all solar, it will produce more in some parts of the country and world than others."

"We've moved power and data cables to a Cable Corridor alongside the road/parking lot," she continued. "This provides easy access the power/data companies. It will give the cables a home and eliminate the need for overhead wires that are unsightly and subject to ice/breakage. The other way the power companies are handling it now is to bury them (sometimes right next to gas lines) in the dirt and dig them up with a shovel for access. So we can make utility companies' work much easier and safer. Our system can also eliminate cell phone dead spots by installing a 'leaky' cable in the Cable Corridor. Our corridor can be a home for all kinds of cables including TV, fiber optic for high speed internet, phone, etc."

A section in the installation's Cable Corridor has been included to store, treat and redistribute storm water, and the Brusaws sourced recycled glass and were able to incorporate 10 percent in the aggregate of the base layer of the prototype.

A new hexagonal road panel was revealed in July 2013
A new hexagonal road panel was revealed in July 2013

Currently, some 69 percent of the layer directly under the glass of each hexagonal unit is made up of photovoltaic cells, but that will increase to 100 percent prior to commercial production. Before that can happen, though, the Solar Roadways project has hit Indiegogo (starting, appropriately enough, on Earth Day) to help raise enough money to hire a team of engineers and other professionals, streamline the production process and move into manufacturing proper.

A lofty funding target of $1 million has been set, and the project will receive all funding, even if the campaign goal is not met. Rewards include t-shirts, coffee mugs, a backer's name engraved on one of the prototype's 396 mounting hole covers, and samples of the toughened glass.

The campaign video below brings the Solar Roadways story bang up to date.

Sources: Solar Roadways, Indiegogo

Solar Roadways Indiegogo Video

28 comments
John Forrest
Sorry to burst the bubble here.... better to cover the car park, or as you yanks say, parking lot, with solar panels overhead...! Why...? 1. You still get the benefit of solar power. 2. You cover the car therefore in sunny areas less aircon and in cold areas less defrosting. 3... well angle the buggers, put gutters on the end and low and behold... grey water harvesting to flush your toilet, water your garden etc etc... Why the hell don't the big corps do this to their car parks I have no idea. PS my idea. I'll happily take a cut should this be used
Mindbreaker
The best application would be on strait bridges. There would not be any ground eroding under them and would be easier to maintain. Electronics flooding would be far less likely. Wiring to street lamps would be strait forward, and usually bridges are better lit so they can use more of the power generated without sending it to who knows where to make use of it. In a parking lot I would not want to try to push a cart over all those bumps. Even if front of a house or business it can be hard to use a roller board dolly to move furniture or appliances. It needs a finer texture. Concrete costs less over time than asphalt if poured to sufficient thickness, but cities don't use it that much (usually only in very steep areas because the asphalt creeps downhill). They prefer to spend less now, never mind tomorrow. Hard to change that. Politicians have too many other pet projects. Asphalt is usually put on fairly thin with less preparation under it than concrete. Don't care for the design much. They should be one color unless the thing is lighting up to show lines. Great for nighttime. I wonder if it will be bright enough in the daylight. A dogbone brick shape would make more sense. And there will be installation costs. There is also a risk of shorts in rainy weather and if there were blackouts you could not use the roads. Glass even though hardened, could be damaged by trailer chains, blowouts, accidents, landslides, slumping and geologic plate movement. In California there are a number of highways that are directly on faults because they are flat, cut through hills, and no one else wanted to build there. Asphalt will ooze a bit and adjust to movement. The idea has merit. I don't think it is quite up to its potential with this design though. Still, I would like to see a few built, just to see how they fair and what the issues are, so the technology can be improved. But perhaps several designs should be tried. I think there needs to be an alternative to glass for this application that is still durable and transparent but requires less energy to manufacture.
JPAR
John Forrest - completely agree. Overhead is simply cheaper and easier to maintain. Although I was wondering if there was a way to harness the heat energy from road surfaces in hotter climates? Perhaps pumping water underneath to capture the heat? Just like underfloor heating circuits?
Jenkins
I think this idea is brilliant. Asphalt costs will continue to rise with the costs of oil. It would create jobs! Whole communities or neighborhoods could go off grid and eventually towns and cities with this product. It would save costs on energy for those communities - costs of maintaining their asphalt roads would more than pay for installing these. Asphalt roads need replacing every 3-5 years. These roads are designed to last 20 years. They are esthetically pleasing to look at rather than roads covered by solar panels structures overhead - overhead panels covering roads would be snapped by a good wind storm anyway. The glass on this solar road is stronger than steel and has been tested to withstand so many tons of pressure. A landslide, earthquake would effect asphalt too. This is a forward thinking solution to our climate crisis and our economic crisis. Kudos to Solar Roadways for working on this for 8 years to bring this idea to the world when we most need it!
KADC
I have no idea of the cost factor, but rather than solar, what about a piezoelectric layer between the concrete and asphalt with some means to protect the piezoelectric layer when the asphalt is resurfaced? Though impractical for low traffic areas, piezoelectric has the advantage over solar of working day and night. On a smaller scale, bands of piezoelectric across a highway connected to batteries might be enough to power street lights and roadside displays.
acyron
Use as roof covering or sell to individuals for home units much more logical or cover the roads as a roof pavement would last longer or place beside roads in areas that are mowed.. No matter how durable they are they will not stand up to the constant abuse of autos striking them..
Mirela
the idea is not bad but the product will be very fragile under the trucks and cars, it won't last long. also, i guess producing it isn't cheap and it must eating a lot of other natural LIMITED resources, like copper, just for example. anyway, from beginning of using it, in order to avoid being crushed by tones of cars in less than one year i guess it would be way more profitable to fix it on the exteriors of buildings and on their roofs, where the mechanical stress would be definitely lower. and , as a bonus, the buildings would look nice.
RicardoSpain
Hi John Forest They're already doing this in the IKEA car park in Malaga Spain. The solar panels shield the cars from the hot sun in summer and provide shelter from the rain in winter. They haven't thought of the water side, but they've covered most of the parking lot with these panels. Would you believe the only drawback is that in Spain, you now have to pay for all the electricity you produce from your own solar panels.
Gregg Eshelman
A solar parking lot full of cars wouldn't be generating much power. It would be more sensible to use these only in the driveways between the rows of parking spots.
Badger Watkins
A little wear and one rainstorm, and you have vehicles sliding everywhere. Oh hell no.