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This Couple Is Making Roads Out Of Solar Panels, And They Actually Work

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Eco-Friendly, Sci-Tech with 1 Comment

Emily Atkin | Thinkprogress | May 14th 2014

Scott and Julie Bradshaw stand on a prototype for a Solar Roadway parking lot. The prototype is largely finished, aside from mounting holes, mastic between panels, and software for LED patterns that still need to be added.

Scott and Julie Bradshaw stand on a prototype for a Solar Roadway parking lot. The prototype is largely finished, aside from mounting holes, mastic between panels, and software for LED patterns that still need to be added.

Finding a way to replace regular, concrete roads with ones that could better serve a sustainable world has long been Scott and Julie Brusaw’s dream. Lately, the couple has been working on that dream so much that — at least on Tuesday — they didn’t even sleep.

“All of the publicity is keeping us hopping,” Julie said by e-mail on Wednesday afternoon, after Scott had fallen asleep. “I have over 6,800 unanswered emails in my inbox right now. Not counting all of the thousands I have responded to of course!”

The e-mails are about the couple’s Solar Roadways project, which aims to replace traditional asphalt and concrete roadways with solar panels that are covered with four-square-foot glass hexagon panels. The glass panels are designed not only to withstand the heaviest of trucks, but are also textured, encouraging tires to grip the surface and water to run off. The solar panels underneath generate energy from the sun, which can not only power nearby communities, but also the electric vehicles that drive above them. The power could also fuel embedded heating elements that would melt ice and snow, essentially making plows obsolete. To top it off, the power also lights up yellow LED lights instead of painted-on road lines, making night time driving safer.

Artist's rendition of a Solar Roadway in downtown Sandpoint, Idaho.

Artist’s rendition of a Solar Roadway in downtown Sandpoint, Idaho.


It’s a seemingly crazy idea, but according to the couple, it’s actually working. Boosted by two phases of funding they’ve received from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, they’ve built a parking lot that they say can withstand weight, generate electricity, and ultimately help fight climate change.

“It’s so exciting to have the parking lot now, to see and touch and walk on,” Julie said. “Finally, we’ve gone from concept to a tangible prototype.”

If every roadway in the country were replaced with Solar Roadways — a huge feat, admittedly — Julie and Scott estimate that enough solar energy could be generated to entirely substitute power generated from fossil fuels, and then some. Combined with the fact that the roads could charge electric vehicles (and thereby increase the viability of those vehicles) the couple estimates that the roads would, if installed everywhere, have the ability to cut American greenhouse gas production by 75 percent.

The couple also contends that the roadways would pay for themselves over time because of the fact that they generate power.

The Solar Roadways project has been in the works for quite some time, with Scott and Julie initially receiving a contract from the Federal Highway Administration in 2009. The results of that contract were favorable enough that they were awarded a follow-up contract in 2011 worth $750,000 to build the prototype parking lot in Idaho.

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  1.' Go Travel says:

    I saw this project back when it was green lighted back in 09. Glad to see it come from idea to concept. I think it would be awesome to have the road in front of you to act as a vehicle message system. Your car could communicate with the road, and transmit gps data so that you don’t have to take your eyes off of the road. It could also serve as a warning system for accidents, Amber Alerts, etc. the replacement cost would be long term beneficial, not to mention the savings on salt and maintenance. If it also sent power to the local grid and eased dependence on fossil fuels it would be a huge step toward energy independence.

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