5 Jun

Solar roadways – paving the way for the future

For years, bitumen has been one of the mainstays of road infrastructure in the developed worlds.

Stretching across our country, Australia’s roads are primarily a bitumen or concrete affair. Over time, these roads have proven to require a huge amount of work to maintain, particularly as they deteriorate and become damaged through vehicular traffic and natural conditions. Not only that, but these roads – besides being useful to drive on – don’t offer much else to the individual.

Well, if an ambitious invention by US engineering couple Scott and Julie Brusaw receives the funding and backing it needs to mass manufacturing, the roads of old could be replaced by solar roadways. Yes, roads that are made entirely of hexagonal solar panels.

Why solar roadways?

Solar roadways don’t just have the potential to completely change the way renewable energy is generated, but it could change the way we look at roads in general. How? Well, there are several reasons why solar roadways could be game changing.

1. Easier maintenance

Solar roadways would be far easier to maintain than bitumen and/or concrete roads. Because the roads are constructed via hexagonal panels that lock into one another, if one panel happens to break or wear out, that one and only panel needs to be replaced. The replacement process is incredibly simple, and because each panel can be individually monitored, the relevant team members are informed immediately and can carry out repairs with greater immediacy than is currently possible with traditional roads.

2. Hazards, weather and clearer markings

Because the roads are also solar panels, they need as much exposure to the sun as possible. To account for this, the Brusaws have installed LEDs into each panel, as well as giving them the ability to generate heat to melt off snow and ice. While these were initial design decisions to give them the most exposure to the sun, this also means that solar roadways will rid roads of ice and snow, and the roads will not need to be painted with road markings as the LEDs can create lanes, speed signage, generate dynamic warnings if an animal is crossing the road, and more. 

In other words, people won’t have to have their roads plowed or scrape snow from off their driveways. And road markings will never need to be reapplied because the LEDs will cover this, as well as providing dynamic warnings when new hazards are ahead. Oh, and finally, if conditions were to make road visibility harder, the intensity of the LEDs could increase to make road markings clearer.

3. A step up in on-road safety

Following on from the last point, the fact that these solar roadways can remove ice and snow from the roads, create dynamic hazard warnings (e.g. ‘Slow down – hazard ahead’ if a tree has fallen), and increase and decrease the strength of the LEDs to provide clearly visible road markings at all times, this could have a profoundly positive outcome for road safety. While reckless drivers can never be fully accounted for, the various hazards that can put even the most responsible and experienced drivers at risk can. Solar roadways would actually make travelling safer.

4. A surplus of clean energy and a reduction in carbon emissions

What is genuinely exciting about these solar roadways (besides them being incredibly functional and making our roads look they’re out of Tron) is that they would also be a substantial source of energy for each and every country they’re installed in. According to the Brusaws, if all roads in the US were to be replaced by these solar road panels, it would generate 3x the amount of energy that is used in the US every year. There would a surplus of renewable, clean energy.

Not only that, but in the short term carbon emissions would drop by a whopping 75% – and this number would only grow as time goes on. And because the panels are made almost entirely from recyclable materials, they can be reused and repurposed instead of adding to landfills. In a sunburnt country like Australia, having solar roadways everywhere would certainly remove our reliance on harmful coal energies, and it would also open up plenty of job opportunities along the way.

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