Driving Into a Greener Future


By Colleen Salvatore

Paving America's Roadways with Solar Panels

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie — driving an electric car that's illuminated by a highway and also generates electricity, melts ice and snow and displays messages. Such a cruise may one day be possible with Solar Roadways.

Speeding into the Future

When Scott and Julie Brusaw see a paved roadway, they envision a smart highway with electricity-generating solar panels instead of asphalt or concrete. Through their start-up company, Solar Roadways, they are working to develop cost-effective solar pavers from recycled materials that would house solar panels and circuit boards. The Brusaws like to think big and hope to one day create a "a nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than a country uses as a whole."

To this end they've developed a hexagonal glass-covered tile strong enough to hold a 250,000-lb. load. Bumps developed on the glass offer more traction than asphalt. A 12 x 36 ft. prototype has been constructed in the Brusaw's hometown of Sandypoint, Idaho, capable of generating approximately 3600 watts of energy. The goal is to create a system that can pay for itself.

Down the road, plans include tiles constructed with heating elements to melt snow and ice throughout the winter, recharge electric cars and power LEDs for lighting or to display messages. The Solar Roadways founders aren't limiting their plans to the thousands of miles of open road. They believe that their solar tiles will be able generate electricity for use in our homes and businesses and power lighting for parking lots and streets.

Many Bumps in the Road

Major barriers need to be overcome before roads can be paved with solar tiles. Pavers cost an estimated 50 to 300 percent more than traditional road surfaces. Will the glass surface provide sufficient traction and strength for varying weather conditions and heavy vehicles? What will be required for paver upkeep and to maintain the electrical infrastructure? Will animals be attracted to the heat of the roads and create additional hazards? Clearly more research is needed before a cruise on the smart highway becomes a reality

Classroom Discussion

  • What are other applications for solar-powered tiles?
  • What impact would the installation of a solar-powered roadway have on the work force?