The Solar Roadways project run by an American couple aims to replace traditional road surfaces with intelligent, autonomous, connected solar panels.

Smart City: Developing Smart, Environmentally-Friendly Roads

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford unveiled a new type of hybrid vehicle fitted with a roof-mounted solar panel array. Meanwhile over the last few years, a US-based engineer and his psychologist wife, Scott and Julie Brusaw, have been focusing on the actual road, investigating the possibility of one day embedding solar panels into the roadway so as to collect energy on a permanent basis. In 2009 their Solar Roadways project received funding from the United States Federal Highway Administration to finance their prototype. Five years later, in March this year, they came out with a second prototype, designed as a surface for a car park, which is made up of modular solar panels.

A connected road

The Brusaws’ ambitious ultimate goal is to install smart solar panels on all roadways, replacing the asphalt surface currently used with a conductive glass compound so as to draw maximum benefit from the sun’s rays. In addition to producing electricity to power local infrastructure, the technology can also be adapted to specific climate conditions – for instance incorporating a heating system designed to melt black ice, a major problem in areas where heavy snowfall is a frequent occurrence. The panels have integrated LEDs, turning the roadway into an interactive instrument. This will mean that signage can be tailored to any obstacles on the road – wild animals, accidents, and so on – and drivers can be warned in real time about traffic conditions. All this adds up to a safer driving environment.

Environmentally-friendly, social innovation

The glass compound developed by Idaho-based Solar Roadways has been studied down to the smallest detail. The panels are made up of a number of layers which foster not only energy collection but also tyre adherence to the road. The idea is that the solar panels – made of highly resistant glass which can support the weight of vehicles over 100 tons, embedding photovoltaic cells, electrical resisters and LEDs – are manufactured as modular sections which fit together. The Solar Roadways team have also given much thought to the effects of global warming, and have designed the cable corridor running alongside the carriageway in such a way that it will be able to collect storm water and channel it to a purification plant. If the prototype goes into full manufacture, it is likely to lead to the creation of many jobs. Solar Roadways launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in April, running until 20 June, which has already achieved more than its initial goal of $1 million.

By Eliane HONG