Photovoltaic panels which can be driven upon while producing energy are a step closer to reality with phase II testing of the Solar Roadway currently underway.
The energy produced by the panels can be used to generate revenue, thus creating a road which will eventually pay for itself over time.
Each individual panel consists of three basic layers, the first of which is a translucent and highly durable road surface layer. This layer is coarse enough to provide excellent traction, yet still permits the passage of sufficient sunlight to reach the solar collector cells embedded within.
The layer also includes LED lights to light the road, and a heating element. It is capable of handling the heaviest vehicle loads under the worst of conditions and is also weatherproof, providing protection to the layer of electronics beneath it.
The electronics layer contains a microprocessor board with support circuitry for sensing loads on the surface and controlling the heating element. This means no more snow or ice removal and no more school or business closures due to inclement weather.
An on-board microprocessor controls lighting, communications and monitoring. With a communication device installed every 12 feet, the Solar Roadway is a holistic intelligent highway system.
While the electronics layer collects energy from the sun, it is the base plate layer that distributes power (collected from the electronics layer) and data signals (phone, TV, internet, etc.) "downline" to all homes and businesses connected to the Solar Roadway. It too is weatherproof and provides protection to the electronics layer above it.
At the Solar Roadway engineering laboratory in Idaho in the US, the team is building a 12-foot by 36-foot solar parking lot. The parking lot will be fully functional, with solar cells, LEDs, heating elements, and a textured glass surface. The testing is supported by the Federal Highway Administration in the United States.
Phase II tests performed on the glass have so far included load testing, traction testing and impact resistance testing. The engineers say that to date the glass has exceeded all expectations. With the new shapes added to the original concept, they are now able to easily pave curves and hills.
It all sounds expensive, but Solar Roadway says the system can be implemented for roughly the same cost of traditional concrete and asphalt road systems, which rely on fossil fuel power plants.
The difference is that unlike conventional road systems, these roads that will pay for themselves over time. They also provide the additional advantages of no more power outages (roaming or otherwise), safer driving conditions and far less pollution, serving as a decentralized, self-healing, secure power grid.