2014 Paris Motor Show highlights

Solar Roadways installs energy harvesting parking lot

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April 24, 2014

Scott and Julie Brusaw relax on the new parking lot

Scott and Julie Brusaw relax on the new parking lot

Image Gallery (11 images)

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

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

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

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
23 Comments

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

John Forrest
24th April, 2014 @ 02:43 pm PDT

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.

Mindbreaker
24th April, 2014 @ 02:45 pm PDT

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?

JPAR
25th April, 2014 @ 01:44 am PDT

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!

Jenkins
25th April, 2014 @ 05:11 am PDT

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.

KADC
25th April, 2014 @ 05:32 am PDT

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..

acyron
25th April, 2014 @ 09:49 am PDT

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.

Mirela
25th April, 2014 @ 11:39 am PDT

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.

RicardoSpain
25th April, 2014 @ 12:43 pm PDT

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.

Gregg Eshelman
25th April, 2014 @ 02:28 pm PDT

A little wear and one rainstorm, and you have vehicles sliding everywhere. Oh hell no.

Badger Watkins
25th April, 2014 @ 02:57 pm PDT

I can see the signs now. "Don't park in the parking lot." 'Cause, yah know, we can't generate energy if you do. This idea is so wrong on so many levels it is perfect for stoop-uhd government funding.

Car park roof with PV panels: smart.

Car park with PV pavement: stupid.

RelayerM31
25th April, 2014 @ 03:52 pm PDT

This would not work in New England. The plow trucks would destroy it on the first snow storm.... just like they do with pavment, and in some cases, even concrete.

Paul Zigouras
27th April, 2014 @ 06:55 pm PDT

Everyone saying that solar panels work better over a parking lot than on the ground is missing the point.

Yes, if your only goal is to generate solar power from a particular parking lot then you can get more bang for your buck by covering the lot and putting the solar panels on top.

However, that isn't what this project is about. They have already demonstrated that solar panels can be made durable enough to replace sidewalks and parking lots. If they can expand that to local roads (e.g. 2 lanes, 25 mph) then small towns all over the world could install panels of this sort in all their local roads, sidewalks, and parking areas and have a town-wide grid which would produce more electricity than the town uses (and BTW, the panels have heating units to melt snow... so the objection that plows would destroy them is also erroneous - no plows). If the panels can be made durable enough to stand up to highway stresses then those towns could be linked together to form a continent wide electric grid.

Basically, this project is working on a global solar power generation and distribution plan... arguing that other configurations can work better on a small local scale is 'true', but irrelevant to what they are working on.

CBDunkerson
28th April, 2014 @ 05:10 am PDT

I've followed this since it was first published 8 years ago. Most of the negative comments posted here have been addressed over the years.

For the "overhead is better" arguement: There are several issues with this arguement. This is especially true in the US where they are being developed. First our roadways accomodate over height loads and over wide loads regularly. This would mean any roadway so covered was impassible for these loads. The next arguement is cost. Overhead installation costs enormously, and the higher the overhead the higher the cost. Durability is the next arguement. Overhead installation that was sufficiently durable would cost more than these solar roadways due to the supports and the like.

For the "this costs more arguement" Yes these roadways will cost more per square foot installed. The projects goal is to reduce the cost of the installed road surface to three times or less the cost of the current paving method. The offset of the added expense is that the solar roadway would be designed such that it will need replacement three times less often so instead of lasting a mere 7 years the road surface could last 21 or more. The only valid arguement I've seen here for "it costs more" is the one regarding politicians using the "Use the cheapest method now and damn the future!" mentality. Finding three times the road surfacing budget now for future savings would be a difficult arguement in a political office, especially when his uncle/cousin/brother-in-law/business partner/etc. owns the paving company.

VirtualGathis
28th April, 2014 @ 10:24 am PDT

Thank you for answering all the nay saying Nancys in the previous comments... What a brilliant idea. I will take a diveway please. My only concern is, will there be enough people buying the first production run in order to develop financial momentum?

Kevin E. James
28th April, 2014 @ 05:50 pm PDT

Well I like the idea, total saturation would make lots of power, just at what cost ? and water and electronic don't always mix.

But I do like the thinking on this project, and in perfect conditions it would pay for itself, even if the cost was high. I think units need to be installed in all sorts of locations as a test measure to tweak there performance. Mats or blanks could be used in applications where heavy equipment is being used, a small price to pay for such a game changing idea.

I'm willing to donate my time in the chance that this project will someday soon see the light of day.

Keep up the good work.

Jay .. I'm a mechanic not a engineer !

Jay Finke
29th April, 2014 @ 09:47 am PDT

Sorry VirtualGathis but I'm having a difficult time believing your claims about costs or durability.

If costs and durability of were that much cheaper to build roads out of glass you could simply strip out all the expensive electrical components and just build roads out of glass as a much less difficult proof of concept. The claim of reliability is also made without proof of concept testing which would be fairly easy to achieve simply by working with a municipality by agreeing to drop one of the working panels into the largest pothole you are able to find, fill in around the edges, and monitor the results among many other possible tests. In their FAQ they said only the glass layer itself was tested to withstand load.

I dismiss your claim of being cheaper than overhead solar panels essentially for the reason that its based on the same highly inaccurate cost numbers. The fact that for a maximum donation of $10k you get only a 7 inch glass hexagon and not even a single fully working panel provides a lot of credibility to my point.

The value of solar production is dependent on the transparency of the glass and a non-smooth surface is needed for traction and as roads get dirty the transparency would diminish and wear would potentially smooth out the surface.

If the into video would have included driving over a production prototype with a heavy vehicle it could have been at least partly convincing. Even if the structure is able to withstand high pressure if the foundation underneath it takes on a curve it could force the panels to bend and they would likely break.

Keeping water from getting between layers as these things sit in a puddle for years would be a huge challenge and since they are all interconnected if contact is made from one panel to a puddle it could create problems for a whole grid of these.

For the demo install in the video it looks like there is a crawl space and cabling under the platform which would also have to be designed to support the load of the road/highway above it: http://i.imgur.com/ZH8vqOr.jpg

I think this project is /mostly/ nonsense but if they were being more honest something like this /could/ have application in other areas like paving driveways of celebrities that want to feel like they are helping to save the world without having to look at a bunch of unsightly panels in their landscape. I think it would been smarter of them to have taken that route to get the company and technology off the ground before trying to pitch it as a cheaper mass market solution ready to replace highways.

The fact that they didn't simply go that route to get a couple working deployments (or pave even their own driveway!) leads me to believe they just want to cash out with the million dollars in indiegogo funding.

Daishi
29th April, 2014 @ 07:52 pm PDT

Just recently they have said on their facebook page that the glass can handle loads of over 250,000 lbs. Also they don't need to go out and stick it in an actual road there are load and impact tests that can be done and have been done in the labs. Along with that they also have a video of them driving over the parking lot with a tracker.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKO-sDdJzTw

The 10k perk on their Indiegogo is a 7-inch working miniature version of one of the bigger panels. Its not just glass, it works.

In the Indiegogo video they say that they are going to fill up the cracks between each solar panel so that no water will be able to get through.

Lastly, the corridor in which all the cables and storm water is on the side of the parking lot, not under it. It's not going to be subject to any cars being driving over. Also even if that weren't the case, its concrete, not like it will break if a car drives on it even if that were the case.

Duffles
1st May, 2014 @ 01:41 pm PDT

Groan.

Why do dumb ideas like this even get funding?

Heat scavenging from parking lots would be a no-brainer, and you could do it with PEX.

The heat energy you’d pull in during the Summer would be staggering.

And of course, pulling heat out of the asphalt means it’s more comfortable to walk on.

The hot fluid from the PEX could run a building’s Air Conditioning.

(Yes, you can run an air conditioner with heat).

The solar tiles would be okay for sidewalks. But the whacko that thought this up for highways should be committed to a hospital for the permanently puzzled.

The constant wear and tear from vibration alone would ruin the tiles.

Of course, maybe the inventor was imagining we were all going to have hovercraft soon !

William Carr
6th May, 2014 @ 09:49 am PDT

Paul Zigouras hit the nail on the head: snow plows would destroy the panels come winter, and I doubt you can get a glass surface to give you enough traction in snow & ice, no matter how textured the surface. Not only that, but the glass surface would wear-down after 3 or 4 years to give you NO traction in bad weather. Better to use the panels above the roads, parking lots, and on roofs and sides of buildings, not to mention covering bridges with them. They could devise some kind of moveable system to raise the panels in the event of transporting oversize objects. I like the underground power lines idea, and that should be implemented with or without the solar panels. That would eliminate most power outages in bad weather.

JBC234
8th May, 2014 @ 03:18 pm PDT

I think it is a great effort. more people should investigate what sollution may work.

The first step I think is to meake people aware what they can do. In this case, you can start this product as a pavement for your own parking space at home.

VinceAmsterdam
15th May, 2014 @ 07:32 am PDT

Wow, the number of completely stupid comments here is remarkable. Were any of you paying attention? Almost all the complaints listed here have already been addressed. Study their videos and website more closely before assuming you're so much smarter than these people who have been building this project for almost a decade.

kikdcat
23rd May, 2014 @ 08:19 pm PDT

Very interesting....

The concept is brilliant, of course there will be plenty of bugs to work out, but that is how good ideas become great ideas. As they said in the video, they hope to start selling them for private use. This is the best way to see how they will work over time.

I do agree that large amounts of snow could pose a problem. Some storms can produce 3-4 feet within a day or two, so maybe these wouldn't work well for places like that. I doubt the panels could melt that much snow fast enough, so plows would need to be used. I think desert or metropolis areas are a great place to start, just as regular solar panels are placed there for more production. Starting with sidewalks would be beneficial, in the sense that most need to be replaced anyway and max load wouldn't be as high, so I'd imagine cost would go down a bit. Another concern is how they would hold up to car fires from accidents and the chemicals used to out them out.

All in all, it sounds like a good start to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels: a necessary step in my mind. I hope the company is able to continue working on these in a responsible manner, without large causing stress to other areas on the environment.

Keep thinking everyone....

Kristen Martucci
26th May, 2014 @ 07:56 am PDT
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