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Building a bridge to renewable energy


February 2, 2011

The Solar Wind bridge concept combines solar cells and wind turbines to generate power for around 115,000 homes

The Solar Wind bridge concept combines solar cells and wind turbines to generate power for around 115,000 homes

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Bridges are generally exposed to the elements, meaning they generally get a nice dose of sunlight often coupled with some fairly strong crosswinds. For these reasons this “Solar Wind” bridge design would seem to make a lot of sense. The proposed bridge would harness solar energy through a grid of solar cells embedded in the road surface, while wind turbines integrated into the spaces between the bridge’s pillars would be used to generate electricity from the crosswinds.

The brainchild of Italian designers Francesco Colarossi, Giovanna Saracino and Luisa Saracino, the Solar Wind concept was designed for the Solar Park Works – Solar Highway competition that asked entrants to modernize sections of a decommissioned elevated highway stretching between Bagnera and Scilla in Italy.

The road surface would replace traditional asphalt with 20 km (12.4 miles) of “solar roadways” consisting of a dense grid of solar cells coated with a transparent and durable plastic coating providing 11.2 million kWh per year. The designers say this system, combined with the 26 wind turbines integrated underneath the bridge generating 36 million kWh per year, would provide enough electricity to power approximately 15,000 homes.

In addition to the “solar roadways,” the top surface of the bridge would also include a “green promenade” along its length comprising solar greenhouses for growing local produce. Drivers would be able to stop along the bridge to buy some fresh fruit and veggies while enjoying panoramic bridge views (an idea which strikes us as "a bridge too far" for this concept).

The Solar Wind entry was awarded second prize in the Solar Park Works – Solar Highway competition and the design clearly has merit. The integration of wind turbines into the underside of high altitude bridge exposed to constant strong winds seems like a particularly good idea – given that this could be achieved from a structural engineering point of view. Let's hope someone will see the concept and run with it.

Via New Italian Blood.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Great idea.....we would love to institute a project like this here...

Richie Suraci

About the Greenhouses: The last thing I want on a Highway, ist stop, or other peuple stopping. About the road surface: Not inly on racetracks, but also on common Roads the cars loose rubber on the road surface everytime they drive. So the \"transparent and durable\" plastics won\'t be transparent for too long, unless they find a Way to clean it. Also I\'d be interested in the c_f values of those plastics, because especially on bridges side forces can get quite extreme due to wind. For the wind turbines: Good Idea, given that the increased area is taken into account when designing the bridge, so it won\'t lean over too far.

Facebook User

Great Idea. In fact I have been toying with the idea of putting small wind turbines to produce wind energy just like Exhaust fans so that batteries put on the pillars get charged and the lights on the bridge get power during nights. Similarly Solar Panels.

This will be a decentralised way of providing power locally.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh

The concept should be a bit more realistic - the greenhouses are simply stupid, bridge is quite a bad place to stop a car and would you really want to buy some fruit on a bridge with heavy traffic, or relax there while cars are driving by?

As for the solar roadways - why not make solar roofs (designed is such way, that they would provide enough light for cars and their shape would be aerodynamic). First off - a roof could be maintained without stopping the traffic, rain, show etc wouldn\'t affect the surface of the road so driving should be safer. And also jumping off the bridge wouldn\'t be that easy..

As for the turbines - I\'m not an engineer, but imho those turbines would create additional strain to the construction, of course that can be taken info account, yet as it seems the bridge is already built, so U can\'t alter it that much. The turbines could be simply constructed under the bridge - wouldn\'t look that cool, but it wouldn\'t directly interfere with the bridge itself. Not to mention the construction costs.


The wind turbine idea has real potential, but as Richie suggests the forces generated shouldn\'t be underestimated. The roadway solar collector idea is idiotic. Cars and trucks wear down asphalt and concrete. How long do they expect plastic to last? And how slippery is it going to be when wet (or even dry, for that matter)?

Solar cells could be placed on parts of the bridge not exposed to traffic, but not on the roadway itself.


evacuating thermal heat due to natural day time heating of passive surfaces like the road, walls is not very fashionable but will provide \"base\" heat for large heat generation/transfer for grid sized genaration without any additional cost if it is incorporated at the design stage. Current breakthroughs are in capturing, mutiplying the radiance/radiation of the sun. But hardly any to use the heat already created on the surface of the planet due to sunshine. BTW - trapping the energy of the sun (some of which would have bounced off/reflected back in space) may not actually help in stopping global warming - is it not? Just asking.

Chiranjiv Mehta

Take part of the idea,wind-energy, and add to Mississippi River\'s bridges that are all READY for this!


Solar panels on roadways seems to defy logic. They wouldn\'t last very long. As for the wind turbines under the bridge, they would seem inherently less efficient than turbines placed where the wind is optimal, rather than where people primarily need to bridge a gap.

Good luck finding backers.


Actually, I think that the idea of having a place to stop on the bridge and enjoy the view is great. Fruit stands next to the dirt and grime of a high traffic road seem less great, but it is a nice enough thought.

All engineering aside, I feel like a huge structure of fan blades above a forest is an environmental disaster. With the clustered array of spinning blades, birds will face significantly higher danger than in normal wind turbine. situations.

Charles Bosse

To bring us all down to reality, both wind and PV systems just don\'t receive enough energy from wind or sunlight to generate reasonable power. There\'s not enough \'oomph\' there, folks - no matter how we wish it were otherwise.

The cost of wind and PV systems is orders of magnitude greater than the energy they return - even with the most cutting edge technology. Even though they are highly developed and efficient, you can only get so much blood out of a turnip.

For generations we have had the ideal power generating technology out there - but the Hippies have told us it\'s bad. We could all have had electric vehicles for the last 30 years, high-speed rail - except that we listened to complete idiots tell us that nuclear is somehow bad.

Todd Dunning

If the bridge could be sufficiently braced, wind turbines above and below the bridge might work. However, with high altitude bridges, this may not be possible because of the stress/vibration on the support posts unless additional anchoring (cables or bracing) was provided. It might be wiser and less expensive (construction and maintenence) to have large turbines anchored to the ground at ends of the bridge since the tips of the blades would reach almost 100 meters over the bridge from either side. Thus the integrety of the bridge structure would be protected.

Adrian Akau

@Todd Dunning says: \"For generations we have had the ideal power generating technology out there - but the Hippies have told us it\'s bad. \"

Would these be the hippies you mean?


PROFESSOR PAUL E. GRAY President Emeritus, MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

PROFESSOR JOHN P. HOLDREN Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy John F.Kennedy School of Government, and Professor of Environmental Science and Public Policy Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University.

PROFESSOR PAUL L. JOSKOW Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics and Management Department of Economics and Sloan School of Management, MIT Director, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research

PROFESSOR RICHARD K. LESTER Department of Nuclear Engineering, MIT Director, MIT Industrial Performance Center

PROFESSOR ERNEST J. MONIZ %u2013 CO CHAIR Department of Physics, MIT Director of Energy Studies, Laboratory for Energy and the Environment

PROFESSOR NEIL E. TODREAS Korea Electric Power Company Professor of Nuclear Engineering Department of Nuclear Engineering, MIT Professor of Mechanical Engineering Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT


PROFESSOR JOHN DEUTCH %u2013 CO CHAIR Institute Professor Department of Chemistry, MIT

The report they contributed to highlights some PROBLEMS of nuclear industry, but I don\'t think they are hippies.

You are constantly trolling and touting for nuclear energy and trying to insult those who oppose it. Why don\'t you study the issues instead; it may lead you to understand why other options are being more vigorously pursued.

Ludwig Heinrich

Ludwig, I guess the French don\'t agree with your collection of ex-hippies. They get 80% of their power from nuclear energy.

If we hadn\'t hidden under our beds after Three Mile Island, we could be doing the same, enjoying all the same benefits.

But, hey, I\'m no professor, much less an ex-hippie.


Ludwig, you could win your argument by making it. But cutting and pasting names of well-known lunatic moonbat profs - especially Holdren - simply says that you want to fight, without being able to say exactly what you're fighting for.

You are simply another example of Hippies that protest everything, know nothing, and have no answers. We can thank you and your way of thinking for today's oil and coal dependency.

Todd Dunning

Todd Dunning is dead wrong. There is enough wind energy in the continental US to meet the entire nation\'s needs several times over, if only we put as much money and effort into building turbines as keeping the coal and oil industries happy. And no radioactive waste or any other emissions to worry about. Anyone who resorts to namecalling like \"hippies\" already shows he has no facts to back up his argument.

As for this bridge design, I\'m guessing these designers, who are obviously not engineers, have never seen the original, infamous Tacoma Narrows Bridge, AKA Galloping Gertie.


To put it simply: large crosswind area on bridges = bad! To make a bridge with those turbines strong enough to withstand the forces would make it also incredibly heavy and expensive.


Gadgeteer your approach of \"It will work because we wish it\" is actually highly destructive to real solutions that work in the real world. It diverts important attention and research away from projects that are actually usable for something other than looking cool.

Nuclear power is really boring. It doesn\'t get you chicks like alternative energy. But it has that darn capability to actually generate electricity.

Todd Dunning

teeduke and todd dunning both insist on calling all those who do not support a nuclear platform as \"hippies\". They go on to call some of the top academics in the field of nuclear energy \"hippies\" or \"moonbats\"

todd, not surprisingly, thinks I was trying to make some case other than that a group of academics of standing from respected institutions have some problems with a nuclear solution - rather than hippies.

As a by-the-way the problem for the nuclear industry is not hippies but accountants. Without massive subsidies from the arms industry (as in France) nuclear fails to impress the accountants.

Those accountants also tell us that as wind and solar power generation drops in price nuclear energy is escalating in price.

Instead of making nasty calls against hippies (i.e. people who subscribe to mantras of caring for the world and its living things) these two should be mounting their silly attacks against accountants.

Ludwig Heinrich

sorry, but, this "original" idea is pretty close to MY idea of "Wind Energy Skyscrapers" power plants, proposed and published in May 12, 2007 . gaetanomarano.it/articles/028energy.html . . . .

Gaetano Marano

Ludwig, you\'re getting way too defensive about the term \"hippie.\" But that\'s okay with me. It\'s a free country. Besides, most hippies are either long dead or might as well be, given their loss of brain cells. All that aside, nuclear energy has a great many proponents among the scientific community. In fact, it would be even more cost-effective if government and various environmental groups and their legions of lawyers weren\'t so busy attempting to create hurdles and stumbling blocks at every turn in their attempts to delay nuclear power plant construction, perhaps forever. Most readers here are not oblivious to the fact that solar and wind receive heavy subsidies, without which they are hardly economic. Unfortunately for them, they are also highly erratic generators of energy, a major negative to their widespread adoption. Yes, it is inevitable that solar and wind will gain share in our energy portfolio, but they may never fulfill their most ardent admirers\' visions. And as experience with them grows, their downside%u2014the need for large expanses of landscape (as well as the resulting visual blight), and, especially for solar in our arid southwest, an almost unquenchable demand for water, will generate greater objections. In contrast, nuclear will become even more attractive and economically appealing. And you\'ll have to explain to your grandkids why you and your mantra-subscribing friends were so dead set against them.


I\'m pretty sure Todd Dunning works in the nuclear energy industry, given how much he is a proponent of nuclear energy to the exclusion of all other sources. I have never once seen him address the problem of nuclear waste disposal.


teeduke says that I\'m \"getting way too defensive about the term \"hippie.\" But I think teeduke is wrong, it is misguided to attribute the failure of the nuclear energy industry to advance to hippies. In the first place hippies have very little political power and in the second place, as I said before the resistance comes, more effectively, from accountants.

teeduke says: \"nuclear energy has a great many proponents among the scientific community\" but it also has an equal or greater number of opponents due to unresolved safety and environmental issues.

He goes on to say that \"Most readers here are not oblivious to the fact that solar and wind receive heavy subsidies, without which they are hardly economic.\" This is almost funny. When I was reviewing these figures nuclear received a much greater subsidy than solar. Those academics I referred to in a previous reply make that clear. Historically nuclear has always depended on subsidies including a massive insurance subsidy.

As for water use, again this is wrong. Solar energy is not particularly water intensive but nuclear power stations are.

Finally as for the claim \"you\'ll have to explain to your grandkids why you and your mantra-subscribing friends were so dead set against them.\" No, my grandkids want to know why we haven\'t (worldwide) made the appropriate investments in solar, wind and wave technologies.

Ludwig Heinrich

Solar doesn\'t need to cover deserts, though large solar fams in the middle of a desolate unpopulated area with lots of sunlight really has no issue with most rational people. A coal plant just up river from me, however...The cost of solar panels is dropping every year, and efficiency is rising. In the next generation, a combination of solar roofs on every house (solar water heating and PV), wind farms in fields, smaller wind towers around cities (especially on tall buildings), solar windows on tall buildings, combined with some scattered geothermal (where it works well), wave and tidal power (also where appropriate), and yes nuclear power as long as it still survives the unsubsidized cost analysis (and we either switch to wasteless or fusion reactor (if that ever works) plants), will power the world together.

Mark in MI

I think the turbines are a GREAT idea and sense that their framework could be engineered to actually strengthen the structural integrity of the bridge.

Mark G
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