Are solar sidewalks the future of road and foot traffic?
Idaho’s Scott Brusaw thinks so.
His company, Solar Roadways, makes solar-powered glass pavers that could transform thousands of miles of sidewalk into a new energy source.
The company just unveiled its first public installation in a downtown plaza: 15 square feet of hexagon-shaped solar panels that people can walk and bike on.
The company has patented the panels and are working on proving that they are strong enough to handle motor vehicles of varying sizes.
So far, the strength tests have been successful on the glass – which is just half an inch thick.
It has withstood the standard test for concrete, whereby 1-pound steel balls are dropped on it from a height of 8 feet. The panels could hold 250,000 pounds in strength tests, three times the legal limit for a semi-trailer.
The glass also has a traction that’s similar to that of asphalt. In tests, vehicles have been able to stop at the required distance.
Their plan is to replace all the asphalt and concrete currently used to build roads and sidewalks, and cover it with solar panels.
They say that in doing so, the world can generate three times our energy needs.
Weighing about 70 pounds, each panel is about 31 inches point-to-point and made of tempered glass. They contain lights that can be programmed to direct traffic or alert drivers of problems, along with microprocessors that enable them to communicate with each other, a central control station and vehicles.
Furthermore, the company says that heat produced by the panels will keep roadways snow and ice-free. They are also designed to be easily replaced if damaged.
The company is receiving research money as part of the Federal Highway Administration’s efforts to fight climate change. In fact, since it was incorporated in 2006, Solar Roadways has received three FHA grants, totalling $1.6 million. It has also received funding from the state and a local economic development agency.
Not to mention, it attracted the dollars of 50,000 donors on Indiegogo, raising $2.2 million.
Solar Roadways isn’t the only company to consider roads and sidewalks as a potential source of renewable energy. The Netherlands unveiled a solar bike path in 2014 (and another one just opened in Poland), and both France and Germany have announced plans to build solar roads in the future.
Solar Roadways hopes to beat them to it. It’s still seeking permission to use the panels in roads and plans to set up a manufacturing facility for the glass panels as early as next year.
In the meantime, the company is doing custom jobs. The panels can currently be used for sidewalks, driveways and parking lots.