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  • Alexeus Nicol

Solar Roadways; Transportation of the Future

I have been following the proposal of solar roadways since I discovered them when working on a master planning project in studio. To see the new approach to the marketing of this project is truly a breath of fresh air. Although the concept is far from implementation, this video helps draw excitement and anticipation for the eventual replacement of asphalt roads by solar panels that can be driven upon.

First, I want to express how amazingly ingenious this idea is. Who would have thought to put fragile solar panels underneath massive cars? The way Scott and Julie Brusaw have found logical solutions to every major uncertainty regarding the solar roadway is very similar to the way we as architects design.

There are many benefits to the Solar Roadway, the most important being the near elimination of dirty electrical energy production in the United States. I must emphasize that it will not completely eliminate dirty energy production. There will be those who are skeptical and refuse to transition to the new energy distribution. But these people will not understand that the elimination of coal produced electricity will bring the return of clean water to those near coal mines. It will stop the destruction of the earth that is inevitable with coal mining; the off gassing and the destruction of habitats and ecosystems will cease to exist. One must be reminded that the elimination of coal use will destroy the coal mining industry. This will create hotspots of unemployment as coal miners tend to reside relatively close to the mining site. It will become a situation similar to the shutdown of the automobile factories in Detroit or the decline of Youngstown, Ohio after the steel mills. Youngstown still has not recovered since the shutdown of the steel mills in 1977 and in fact is the United States’ fastest declining city. We need to be careful when making large transitions such as this project is suggesting and ensure that we do not create another Youngstown. Consequently, solar roadways will create new jobs in construction, electric technologies and sustainable technologies. There is a wider range of jobs created on multiple levels of educational backgrounds, something that our country needs in order to fully and securely from our unemployment issue.

The implementation of solar roadways across the entire country, or even in a smaller region will eliminate power lines in the region. Not only will this benefit the community aesthetically but it will also eliminate power outages due to high winds and ice storms. Power transportation will now be underneath the road with easy access, which currently is difficult to access underground. Citizens will no longer be threatened by downed power lines as the electrical wires will not come in contact with the pedestrian realm. In addition to the immersion of the power supply, the localization of power production means that the voltage used to transport the electricity can be reduced as higher voltage is needed to combat the resistance developed when transporting electric current long distances. This means that the risk associated with the wires transporting the electric current will be lower in areas where people may come in contact with them.

In the video, the creators state that the panels will be constructed from recycled materials. If we were to drastically update our entire highway system with solar roadway panels, I fear that we would not have the amount of recycled materials needed to sustain panel production. In order to acquire the required materials, programs would need to be developed in order to encourage citizens to recycle their desired materials. To encourage massive depositing of materials, monetary incentives will need to be developed. When recycled materials are limited, large amounts of materials that require a high level of energy for their production will be required. Glass requires high temperatures to mold. Solar cells and wires are high intensity products, as well. The solar roadways will require massive amounts of these products. But, the energy required to create new solar roads is similar to the energy required to create a new asphalt road. Asphalt roads in themselves require high levels of energy to produce. To replace one high energy product with another that also can create clean energy is truly the more responsible solution to the problem.

With the use of LED’s in order to outline lanes, lane vision at night improves, allowing more drivers on the roads at night. But how will this translate to daytime vision? It might be more difficult to see the lights with sunlight and glare unless steps are taken to prevent this situation from occurring. In addition, LED’s allow for traffic patterns change without major construction or other drastic measures. Traffic can be optimized and possibly eliminated if lanes can change simply by changing the pattern of lights on the roadway, similar to a digital sign.

Finally, the optimization of the solar panels used for solar roadways is important aspect regarding their function. In order to prevent snow and ice from blocking the panels from the sunlight, the creators have designed the panels to melt the ice off of the road surface. This eliminates the time, money and effort needed for snow removal. Snow days will no longer exist with complete replacement of roadways around the country. Unfortunately, those who rely on snow removal for their winter income will suffer greatly and seasonal unemployment will occur. In addition, true optimization of solar panels requires a perpendicular movement to the sun’s rays. This requires panels that move, but if affixed they must be at a 45͒ angle. Solar roadways will not allow this to occur, thus resulting in a loss of true optimization. In addition, solar roadways may be installed in shaded areas. These panels will not receive ample amounts of sunlight, resulting in low energy output. Some of these may receive ample sunlight in the winter when leaves fall from the trees. This can help increase electrical output when sunlight is at its weakest. Therefore, although the panels may not be fully optimized until the winter months, these panels are necessary to uphold a consistent electrical output year round. Finally, roadways become filthy with rubber and oil, as well as leaves, grass, gum, soda, trash and many other particles that are dispersed on the road. If these articles are on top of the solar roadways, they block the sunlight from reaching the solar cells. In order for optimization of the solar roadways, a cleaning crew must be dispersed to keep the roadways free of unwanted debris. This will create new jobs, but will also require a large amount of materials, some possibly toxic to our environment. Environmentally safe procedures will have to be implemented in order to keep the roadways clean for optimization of electric production.

Solar roadways are the new way to clean energy production. Although they come with many obstacles, the ability to replace an inefficient product with one that has the potential to achieve complete clean energy dependence is beneficial to our society and our existence. With claims that we may be on the next extinction in the media, we need to make drastic changes rapidly to our way of life. The implementation of solar roadways is one change we can make that will change our lifestyle for the better.

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