Solar Roads Idea, Really?
In recent articles, we’ve examined the benefits of electric vehicles and hybrids as well as the possible infrastructures that will be used to power them in the future. This time, however, our subject sounds like its right out of a sci-fi movie. I’m talking about solar roads… solar roads that will actually absorb sunlight and generate electricity.
We all know the sun is the ultimate renewable energy source and solar panels are a great way to generate renewable power. But, one of the problems has always been the surface area required to build them. That’s why they are generally located on rooftops of homes and buildings. Now, some engineers are experimenting with putting solar panels on roads -- or rather, making roads out of solar panels.
Solar Roadways Receives Grant
It turns out that a company called Solar Roadways has received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a prototype that includes a solar cell, a light-emitting diode, an ultra capacitor and a layer of glass that vehicles could actually drive on. According to an article in Scientific American, these roads will become a reality someday in the future if scientists can find a way to develop a type of glass that vehicles can drive on safely. Solar Roadways: The Prototype (Video in new window)
A highway made out of glass, solar panels and electricity distributors. Imagine the applications! Range anxiety would be a thing of the past. (That’s the fear of running out of juice while you're too far from your home or a charging station.) But having solar roadways that constantly generate electricity could mean being able to place charging stations just about anywhere, including remote parts of the highway.
Furthermore, scientists are also experimenting with the wireless transmission of electricity -- that is, sending electricity from a power source to a device like a cell phone or TV without a physical connection between the two. According to professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they are already close to figuring it out. Now take that technology a step further and apply it to cars. If we had solar roads absorbing sunlight and generating electricity, they could transmit it to battery-powered cars as they drive along the highway.
Pitfall Of Solar Power Is The Cost
Unfortunately, the other pitfall of solar power is the cost of each cell. A single cell can cost hundreds of dollars and a big collection of solar cells would be necessary to power even a small vehicle. So, the sun won't entirely power our cars anytime soon.
However, there are a few small options out there. For example, Toyota's latest Prius has an optional solar moonroof that powers the vehicle’s ventilation system to help keep the car cool on hot days. And the Fiskar Karma, a new exotic hybrid sport sedan, also features a solar panel roof that gathers energy for the system. According to Cars.com, the roof alone can provide up to four or five miles of additional travel on the electric system.
The very best options for a solar-electric car may still be through charging, not direct solar power. One couple in California described a solar panel system on their roof that they use to charge two electric Mini Cooper E models. The system cost them approximately $10,000. That may sound like a lot of money, but since their solar-powered system is expected to last 25 years, it's a lot cheaper than the nearly $60,000 they would pay in gas for a comparable gasoline-powered car. Add those savings to the fact that there will be no emissions from the electric grid or the car itself and the benefits are remarkable.
So, it might not be long when instead of "Keep your eyes on the road”, we’ll be saying, “Keep your eyes on the glass."As sure as the sun shines, car repairs are in your future. Time to consider the insurance of an extended vehicle service contract that will protect you, your investment.
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