Frequently Asked Questions
We're in the process of updating this page daily with more current information. Please come back often.
- What kinds of things have you tested for during your contract with the Federal Highway Administration?
- What are you going to do about traction? What's going to happen to the surface of the Solar Roadways when it rains
- How much weight can these panels support? Semi-trucks get pretty heavy!
- Why don't you start with something easier like sidewalks, driveways or parking lots before installing roads?
- What are all of the different applications for your panels?
- How will you replace damaged panels in a highway?
- What about motorcycles and bicycles? Won't they slip on the glass surface? What about strollers, skates, skateboards, wheelchairs, etc.?
- What is the maximum heat that the panels can endure?
- Can your Solar Roadways handle Army tanks?
- How long will these Solar Road Panels last?
- What will an earthquake do to a Solar Roadway?
- How do you make hills, curves, and crowns with flat hexagons?
- Can your panels be installed over wood surfaces, such as a boardwalk?
- What about frost heave?
- Won't your textured surface make a lot of noise at high speeds?
- Isn't glass softer than asphalt?
- How much power does your parking lot generate?
- If a parking lot is full of cars or a highway has lots of traffic, how are they going to produce any energy?
- In the winter, will the solar cells be able to power the heating elements in the panels?
- How will you keep the panels clean and how much power do you lose when they are dirty?
- How do you store the excess energy?
- Don't solar cells produce DC energy? How does a home or business use this?
- Have you thought about adding piezoelectric elements to your panels?
- How are you going to distribute the power? Won't you have to have cables along every road?
- Will the LEDs even show up in direct sunlight?
- Who owns the electricity that your new infrastructure produces?
- How are you going to handle skid marks from tires? Won't that block your sunlight?
- Won't an EMP take out your Solar Roadways?
- What happens if lightning hits a Solar Roadway? Won't that fry the electronics?
- Won't the LEDs cause light pollution?
- Are you using rare earth metals in your Solar Road Panels? Will there be enough? Will it be toxic?
- How will snow melt/water be dispersed?
- What can Solar Roadways do to help Electric Vehicles?
- You say that these roads will charge electric vehicles and will "pave the way" for EVs to be a viable option. But how much more electricity would we consume if every vehicle being driven in the US were an EV? And would the solar roadway grid be able to keep up with that much demand?
- Can Solar Roadways help driverless vehicles like the Google car?
- How are you going to keep hackers from disrupting your system?
- These panels must be valuable. What's to keep people from stealing them for home use?
- Why don't you just do projects where it doesn't snow and you won't have to worry about how much energy the heaters use?
- I understand your system is a decentralized power grid. Why is that important?
- How can this technology be used to make crosswalks safer?
- Wouldn't animals be all over the road during winter? Won't the warmth of the road be attractive to them?
- Since your panels can be made pressure sensitive, could they be used for security applications?
- I heard that you said it's going to cost $60 trillion dollars to outfit the U.S. road with Solar Roadways. Is that true?
- This is such a great idea. Don't you hear from investors who express interest in investing in your project? Why are you asking for help on Indiegogo?
- How can a Solar Roadway pay for itself? How can it generate revenue?
- How much will your panels cost?
- Would you have to rip up perfectly good roads and parking lots to install your system?
- Wouldn't it make more sense to just build canopies over the roads to hold the solar panels? That way, we wouldn't have to be able to drive on them?
- What will you do with your funding from Indiegogo? Are you going to do some projects?
- Have you installed any projects yet?
- Will the panels become hotter than asphalt roads? Will they burn us to walk in them in summer?
- Will I get cut if the glass panels break?
- Have you had any support from celebrities or famous people?
Electric Vehicle Questions
Security and Safety Questions
How will you replace damaged panels in a highway?
Since our system is modular, repair will be much quicker and easier than our current maintenance system for asphalt roads. We've learned that in the U.S., over $160 billion is lost each year in lost productivity from people sitting in traffic due to road maintenance.
Each of the panels contain their own microprocessor, which communicates wireless with surrounding panels. If one of them should become damaged and stop communicating, then the rest of the panels can report the problem. For instance, "I-95 mile marker 114.3 northbound lane, third panel in, panel number A013C419 not responding".
Each panel assembly weighs 110-pounds. A single operator could load a good panel into his/her truck and respond to the scene. The panel could be swapped out and reprogrammed in a few minutes. The damaged panel would then be returned to a repair center. Think of how this compares to pot hole repair!
If a parking lot is full of cars or a highway has lots of traffic, how are they going to produce any energy?
This will cause some loss of power of course. However, traffic or parked cars will have a negligible impact on the overall system. For instance:
This picture is from Orange County, CA during work traffic. The upper six lanes are what we'd refer to as "bumper to bumper" traffic. Even with this congestion, you can see how much of the road surface is still exposed to sunlight.
This picture is Tyson's Corner in Virginia. Look at the parking lot, particularly the section on the curve. It appears that every parking space is filled on the curved section, but look at how much of the parking lot surface is still exposed to sunlight (not to mention all of the other road surfaces!). Get on Google Earth and zoom in to any road or area in any city. You'll find the same results. We once calculated the numbers for a large department store, assuming a full parking lot, and found that even with the lot full there was more than enough power to take the store off grid.
As we travel around the country doing speaking engagements, we see miles and miles of roads and highways with virtually no traffic. So we believe it will have a negligible impact on the Solar Roadway's overall efficiency. Back to top
Isn't glass softer than asphalt?
Not even close.
This is called the mohs hardness scale, which is used to define hardness in materials science. It lists materials from the softest to the hardest, 10 being diamond:
A subset of common items:
As you can see, asphalt has a hardness of 1.3, copper has a hardness of 3, iron and nickel have a hardness of 4, steel falls between 4 and 4.5. As you get closer to diamond, you finally come to glass, which has a hardness of 5.5-6.0 (it can actually exceed 7).
So if anyone tries to tell you that glass is soft, just remind them that even simple window glass is harder than steel. By comparison, it's asphalt that is soft.
One more thing: When you temper glass, it becomes 4-5 times stronger than non-tempered glass. Bulletproof and bomb (blast) resistant glass is made with laminated tempered glass.
Solar Road Panels are made of tempered glass.
Won't your textured surface make a lot of noise at high speeds?
Short answer: we don't know. The world's only prototype is a mere 36-feet long and in a place where we can't build up speed.
Testing for sound requires long stretches of pavement and we didn't have the funds for that during our two R&D funding phases. We've been in contact with a testing track north of St. Paul, Minnesota. They'd like to install 500 feet of Solar Roadway and run 18-wheelers over it 24/7, 365 days a year. They can do sound testing and some other tests that we haven't had the funding for. If our current surface texture is too noisy, we can adjust and retest. Before we ever install on a public road, all of these potential problems will have been worked out.
For our initial installations - parking lots, driveways and other areas for slow moving traffic - it's not an issue. As we build up the company installing these non-critical applications, we'll continue perfecting the technology for high speed road use.
Will I get cut if the glass panels break?
We use tempered glass in our panels. Tempered glass breaks differently than regular glass. When tempered glass is struck it does not break into sharp jagged pieces of shrapnel-like glass as normal window panes or mirrors do. Instead, it breaks into little pebble-like pieces, without sharp edges. That's why tempered glass is used in car windows: to prevent injuries during breakage.Back to top
What about frost heave?
Our road surface is heated: that means no more freeze/thaw cycles or frost heaves. Potholes will become a thing of the past.Back to top
How are you going to keep hackers from disrupting your system?
Security is of utmost importance with all intelligent systems. Therefore we need to hire the best and brightest cyber-security team to keep our system safe and secure.Back to top
What will you do with your funding from Indiegogo? Are you going to do some projects?
We have been working for years with just the two of us and a handful of volunteers. We have now reached the point that we need a team of engineers to help us make some final adjustments in our panels and streamline the production process to bring costs down and allow us to produce them more quickly. That is exactly what we are going to use the funding for. We are proud to start offering jobs, the more funds we get, the more we can offer. We can also start building machinery for assembly of the Solar Road Panels. You wouldn't believe how many solar cells we broke while assembling 108 prototype panels!
We don't know where the misconception has come from that we need to pay for projects. The Federal Highway Administration funded two prototypes for us and now we have a very long list of potential customers waiting for our panels to be ready for purchase.
Since your panels can be made pressure sensitive, could they be used for security applications?
Yes - if someone steps onto one of the panels, an alarm can be tripped.
This can work for homes and/or businesses, prisons, border fences... anywhere you need to detect when someone is present or where they shouldn't be.
How do you make hills, curves, and crowns with flat hexagons?
Our first prototype was a 12-foot by 12-foot square. While it worked, its size and shape posed some problems, including the building of curves and hills.
We shrank our design to the shape of a hexagon that covers about four square feet. Our hexagon and half-hexagon (trapezoid) shapes allow us to construct curves. If we find we need other shapes for odd spaces as we progress, we will add them.
For hills and crowns, our Internal Support Structures can be shaved down a little if needed for smoothness. We don't anticipate having much need for it though, except in extreme situations.
Will the panels become hotter than asphalt roads? Will they burn us to walk in them in summer?
We haven't tested them (measured the heat) side by side, but think of it this way: asphalt converts all of the sun's energy into heat. Solar cells convert part (approximately 15-percent?) of that energy into electricity. Therefore, the Solar Road Panels should be at least a little cooler than asphalt, although we still wouldn't recommend walking on them barefoot on a hot day.Back to top
Can your panels be installed over wood surfaces, such as a boardwalk?
Yes they can, but you must make sure that you don't exceed to load limit of the boardwalk, including pedestrians. With our current prototypes, you'd be adding about 25 pounds per square foot to the structure.Back to top
How will snow melt/water be dispersed?
We realized early on that we couldn't just melt the snowfall and let the resulting water run off of the side of the heated road where it would just refreeze, which could cause heaving and damage to the sides of the road.
Instead, we designed a stormwater capture section in our Cable Corridor. The resultant stormwater flows off of the road and through the grates to a filtration area. The water is gravity fed through filtration socks (or other treatment options that customers may wish to add) and into a storage tank below the frost line. The water can be discharged into an existing drainage system or it can be pumped from the storage tank in either direction along the road. Destinations may include a bigger filtration facility, an aquifer, or an agricultural center.
Have you installed any projects yet?
The only project currently installed is our prototype parking lot, which consists of 108 prototype Solar Road Panels in Sagle, Idaho.
Now that our Indiegogo campaign has been successful, we'll be able to move into production pretty fast. Our hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho has the first public projects already lined up for us:
The parking lot of a welcome center
The Amtrak train station passenger platform
The tarmac at the Sandpoint Airport
The parking lot of our local animal shelter
If all goes well, we should be able to start installing at these locations next spring. At that point, we'll have the first public installations for everyone to see and experience.
I heard that you said it's going to cost $60 trillion dollars to outfit the U.S. road with Solar Roadways. Is that true?
No, it's absolutely not true. Years ago, when we were working on our very first prototype, we estimated that if we could make our 12' x 12' panels for under $10K, then we could break even with asphalt. That was mere speculation and had no relevance to the cost of even our first prototype, let alone our second.
We are still in R & D, and we haven't even calculated the cost for our prototype. That will come next month as we get our final report ready for our Phase II contract with the Federal Highway Administration. And even if we had those numbers available now they would have no relevance to the cost of our actual product.
When you are prototyping, you are buying parts in very low quantities, which is the least cost efficient way possible. When you go into production, you order your parts in the 10's of thousands, greatly reducing the costs. Thanks to our funding from Indiegogo, we are now going to hire a team of engineers this summer, who will help us make tweaks to the design, streamline production and get costs down. At that point, we'll be able to release cost information.
But right now, not even we have that information, so if you read an article where a journalist claims to have any data on costs, you can be assured that they have not done their homework and are quoting another unreliable source or they are making up numbers.
How are you going to distribute the power? Won't you have to have cables along every road?
When we first heard this question, we had to stop and think: had we ever even seen a U.S. road that didn't have power lines either overhead or underground running alongside it? After all, isn't that the way we currently get power to our homes and businesses?
We have a Cable Corridor that runs alongside the roads. We've talked to power companies and utility (phone, internet) companies and they all tell horror stories about both overhead lines and buried lines. They all love the idea of moving their cables in our Cable Corridors, where they have easy access, no one can dig into them, ice can't bring them down, fallen trees or tree branches won't bring them down, and vehicles can't hit the poles supporting them.
Most energy systems are centralized, meaning they provide power from a central location and send it out via transmission lines over long distance, which leads to substantial loss. Such systems include nuclear power plants, coal-fired power plants, wind farms, large solar arrays, etc.
Centralized power plants create security risks for each country as they can be taken out by hackers, targeted by terrorists, etc. Entire sections of a country can be left powerless by such attacks.
A decentralized system such as ours offers much more security. Much of the power is used near the power source - i.e., driveways power homes, parking lots power businesses, etc. Excess power produced by our system can feed surrounding neighborhoods. This helps with security: suppose a terrorist detonates a bomb in the middle of a Solar Road and blows the road completely in half. Since both sides of the now damaged road still produce electricity, no one loses power. The decentralized power grid offers much needed national security.
Since driveways, sidewalks, patios, and parking lots supply power to homes and businesses, less energy needs to be transported over long distances, resulting is less loss. It also means smaller cables are required, saving materials and therefore costs. In our system, the power is produced right at the point of use.
What is the maximum heat that the panels can endure?
The ICs are industrial grade, so for instance, the microprocessors can go up to 257 degrees Fahrenheit. We haven't had the funding yet to test our panels in an environmental chamber, but we are anxious to do so.Back to top
Will the LEDs even show up in direct sunlight?
Yes. For the prototype though, we found that the LEDs we chose were not quite bright enough during the daytime. We don't anticipate any problems as there are LED stop lights and billboards everywhere that are very bright even in direct sunlight. At night our LEDs are almost too bright. We made them adjustable so we turn them down at night. We can also turn them off entirely if no vehicles are on the road.Back to top
Wouldn't animals be all over the road during winter? Won't the warmth of the road be attractive to them?
We worried about that too. We live in an area full of moose, elk, deer, bear, mountain lions, and assorted smaller creatures. We have 24/7 monitoring of our prototype and we are happy to report that we haven't seen a single animal walk on it to date, let alone lie down for a nap!Back to top
What happens if lightning hits a Solar Roadway? Won't that fry the electronics?
No. Outside, our system is protected by grounding rods and MOVs (metal-oxide varistors). Inside, we have a whole-house transient voltage surge protector located at our load center as a backup.
Since the Solar Road Panels are on the ground, lighting is far more likely to hit a nearby tree or powerline. In addition, glass is an insulator (non-conductive), so lightning is very unlikely to strike it.
We've experienced several lightning storms and our system has never been affected. However, we've lost power from the local grid on many occasions due to fallen lines and other problems that our system would eliminate.
Can your Solar Roadways handle Army tanks?
Our current M1A2 Abrams tank weighs about 68 tons, or 136,000 pounds. That's a little over half of what our Solar Road Panels have passed load testing for.
When I was in the Marines, I was temporarily assigned to a supply company in Japan. I issued tank tracks with rubber "feet" which allowed the tanks to drive down the highways without causing significant damage to the asphalt. The Solar Roadways will have no problem handling a convoy of tanks!
How long will these Solar Road Panels last?
We're designing our panels to last a minimum of 20 years. Solar cells are the limiting factor: they can continue to work up to 30 years but they're at the end of their life cycle by then.Back to top
Who owns the electricity that your new infrastructure produces?
Short answer: whoever owns the property:
For driveways, patios, sidewalks: the home owner.
For parking lots: the business owner.
For tarmacs: the airport.
Roads get a little trickier: they can be owned privately, by the city, township, county, state, or federal government. The city may own the roads and become the utility company. Or the utility companies may become road builders.
It's hard to tell at this point. Kind of like asking the Wright Brothers in 1903 how a luggage carousel at the Denver International Airport would work.
What about motorcycles and bicycles? Won't they slip on the glass surface? What about strollers, skates, skateboards, wheelchairs, etc.?
We have two types of surfaces:
1) a semi-smooth walking surface that is capable of stopping a car going 40-mph on a wet surface in the required distance
2) The one you see in the video with the raised hexagons was designed for highway use and can stop a car going 80-mph on a wet surface.
We talked with the civil engineers who conducted the traction testing and they've assured us that the testing covers trucks, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. So if you don't slip on asphalt or concrete, then you won't slip on our glass.
The walking surface can be used on sidewalks, bike paths, driveways, parking lots, etc. The surface on our prototype was designed for high-speed roads. Scott rode a bike on the prototype with no problems.
How are you going to handle skid marks from tires? Won't that block your sunlight?
We weren't able to officially test for that during our Phase II funding from the FHWA as it wasn't in the budget. However, we wondered about that too, so we conducted an experiment. It's not very scientific, but here is what we did:
We took a rubber soled shoe and scuffed a section of concrete and a section of our glass. We used a bike tire to create a skid mark on both the concrete and the glass.
The rubber on the glass came off with the simple wipe of a finger: it didn't stick well to the glass. That wasn't the case with the porous concrete: we may now have permanent skip marks there!
We think that the simple act of the next tire rolling over a skid mark on the glass will be enough to loosen the material, which will then blow off or be removed the next time it rains. We are anxious to do some testing to be sure.
Are you using rare earth metals in your Solar Road Panels? Will there be enough? Will it be toxic?
Neither of us have expertise in this area, but we plan to hire a materials engineer who does to help us. One of our main goals is to help the environment, so we will always do what we can to make wise choices. We can use any kind of solar cells in our system: mono-crystalline, poly-crystalline, thin film, etc. We can use other materials that make sense as they are proven and become cost effective such as graphene, dye sensitive solar cells, etc. We'll weigh all of the pros and cons of each type of solar cell prior to making our final decision going into production. Same for all materials.
The Critical Materials Institute (CMI), an Energy Innovation Hub created by the U.S.Department of Energy, has been tasked with how to solve rare earth shortages. The Ames Laboratory will deliver technologies to help find new sources of and substitutes for rare earths and other critical materials, as well as develop recycling and recovery methods. It will also use its expertise to predict and address future shortages. The CMI is DOE's investment in timely, cost-effective, and energy-efficient solutions to this global challenge.
How can a Solar Roadway pay for itself? How can it generate revenue?
. Through the generation of electricity
. By transporting cleaned stormwater to municipalities or agricultural centers
. By leasing the roadside conduit (Cable Corridor) to entities such as utility companies, telephone, high-speed internet, cable TV, etc
. By selling advertising in parking lots with the configurable LEDs
. By charging people or companies to recharge their electric vehicles
. There's probably several more ways we haven't even thought of!
How much weight can these panels support? Semi-trucks get pretty heavy!
Originally, we were designing toward 80,000 pounds. That was supposed to be the maximum legal limit for a semi-truck. However, we live in logging country and a former logging truck driver informed us that they don't have scales in the woods and that he'd topped out at 124,000 pounds. So we decided that we should go for 150,000 pounds. We then learned that oil companies can get permission to move refinery equipment up to 230,000 pounds on frozen roads, so we decided to shoot for 250,000 pounds.
Both 3D Finite Element Method analysis and actual load testing at civil engineering labs showed that our Solar Road Panels can handle that and more.
How do you store the excess energy?
We designed Our prototype to use "virtual storage", meaning that any excess energy is placed back to the grid during daylight hours and then can be drawn back out of the grid at night. This is important as solar energy is only available during the day, but our heating elements need to have power at night in the wintertime in northern climates for snowy weather. However, we can add any current or future energy storage devices to our system. For instance, batteries and flywheels can be placed in the Cable Corridor for easy access, if customers wish to incorporate them. We chose to not use batteries in our prototype system. We fear that, if we make that the norm, our environmental project could leave mountains of lead acid battery in its wake.Back to top
Won't the LEDs cause light pollution?
We want to do everything we can to minimize light pollution. The LEDs can be dimmed or even turned off if no vehicles are on the road. We envision activating the LEDs 1/2 mile ahead and 1/4 mile behind a vehicle. If you were to see the adjacent lane lighting up, then you'd know an oncoming vehicle is 1/2 mile ahead.Back to top
You say that these roads will charge electric vehicles and will "pave the way" for EVs to be a viable option. But how much more electricity would we consume if every vehicle being driven in the US were an EV? And would the solar roadway grid be able to keep up with that much demand?
Good question. Energy demand will definitely increase as more people convert to EVs. It will take time for every road to be converted and for every internal combustion engine to be replaced by an EV. Our technologies will grow together and two things will happen: 1) EVs will become more efficient, so they'll require less energy than they do today. Being capable of being charged by the road means that they won't need large batteries, which will lighten their load and require less power to go the same distance. 2) Solar Roadways will become more efficient at harvesting energy. Solar cell efficiencies over 18-percent are common and cheap now. We will use whatever is commonly available for our Solar Road Panels. As solar cell efficiencies rise, our panels will produce even more energy than they used to at lower solar cell efficiencies. If at any time, the threshold of energy used surpasses that of energy produced by Solar Roadways, then we'll also be supplemented by wind and hydro and whatever other renewable energy has hit the market. It shouldn't be a problem.Back to top
Would you have to rip up perfectly good roads and parking lots to install your system?
No, that's a common misunderstanding of our concept. In keeping with our values as a company to be as green, sustainable and environmentally friendly as we can possibly be, we will make every attempt to reuse the current road, parking lot, sidewalk, bike path etc. for the foundation at our installation sites. Various civil/structural engineers have recommended this approach. For sidewalks and driveways, less substrate is required; more for roads. Some prep will be needed and raceways can be cut in for the cables. This will save prospective customers from the expense of paying for a new foundation. We will need to hire civil engineers to make the determination at each site as to the viability of the existing pavement for providing the foundation for our panels. If it's viable, we will use it. If not, it can be recycled in keeping with our cradle to cradle philosophy.Back to top
These panels must be valuable. What's to keep people from stealing them for home use?
Each panel has its own microprocessor, which communicates wirelessly with the surrounding panels. They monitor each other for malfunctions or problems. Even if someone were able to pull a panel out of the road and load it on a truck, the stolen panel would continue communicating with all of the other panels in the road. The road would know exactly where it was and how fast it was moving, making the criminal a sitting duck for law enforcement.
People will surely try however, and we'll probably be treated to several "World's Dumbest Criminal" episodes before the thieves finally decide it's not worth it!
How much will your panels cost?
We are not yet able to give numbers on cost. We are still in the midst of our Phase II contract with the Federal Highway Administration and we'll be analyzing our prototype costs near the end of our contract which ends in July, 2014. Afterward, we'll be able to do a production-style cost analysis.Back to top
Don't solar cells produce DC energy? How does a home or business use this?
That's correct: solar cells produce DC energy. Our homes and businesses currently use AC energy, so the DC energy is converted to AC energy by a DC-to-AC converter. Unfortunately, every time you make a conversion from DC to AC (or AC to DC for that matter), you have losses in the conversion. This means that some of the energy produced by your solar cells gets lost when it's converted to AC for your home.
Here's another interesting side note: many, if not most, of the electronics in your home don't actually run on AC. Yes, you plug them into an AC outlet, but then a circuit inside of the electronic device converts the AC to DC before using the power. And, you guessed it: you just lost energy again.
If we became a solar based society, then it would make sense to convert over to DC homes and businesses. That way, the power produced by your solar driveway, parking lot, road, playground, etc. wouldn't get wasted being converted from DC to AC and then from AC back to DC again.
Since heavy duty DC motors are available, I can't think of anything in a common household that couldn't be run on DC power. Appliance manufacturers would probably love this, because it would mean that they can save money on the AC-to-DC converter circuitry that they would no longer need. That savings could be passed on to us, the consumers.
Less power loss and more savings - sounds like a win-win!
Wouldn't it make more sense to just build canopies over the roads to hold the solar panels? That way, we wouldn't have to be able to drive on them?
No. It would be incredibly expensive as you would still have to pay for our current road systems. We plan to use the money already budgeted for roads for the replacement Solar Roadways. If we still had to build current roads plus pay for the canopies, the cost would likely be so high that taxes would have to be raised to cover it. And it would leave our highway system just the way it is - crumbling and antiquated. Imagine taking a family vacation on one of these roads. It would feel much like being in a covered parking garage with a roof right over your car! Then there would have to be pillars all along the road holding up the canopy, which would be unsightly and could lead to increased accidents.
In northern climates, you'd have to heat the canopies to prevent snow coverage from blocking the sun from the panels. If the heating elements were to ever fail for any reason, then the weight of the snow could cause the canopy to collapse onto the vehicles below. Unless there is an elaborate drainage system for the melted snow, it could drip onto the road below it, creating sheets of "black ice", causing untold accidents and deaths.
You would also lose most of the features of the Solar Roadways, such as being lit by LEDs for safer night driving. Northern states would still have the removal expense and the accidents caused by the unsafe road conditions. Almost all of the features of our concept would be lost: no smart grid would be created, roads would continue to be unintelligent, there would be no LED lights to make road lines and words so painting and repainting road lines would continue to be needed, pothole repair and the lengthy delays caused by maintenance would go on as usual, wildlife would continue to be killed on our highways etc. All of our other applications would be lost unless someone wanted to see sidewalks, parking lots, tarmacs or driveways covered by a canopy!
I understand your system is a decentralized power grid. Why is that important?
Most energy systems are centralized, meaning they provide power from a central location and send it out via transmission lines over long distance, which leads to substantial loss. Such systems include nuclear power plants, coal-fired power plants, wind farms, large solar arrays, etc.
Centralized power plants create security risks for each country as they can be taken out by hackers, targeted by terrorists, etc. Entire sections of a country can be left powerless by such attacks.
A decentralized system such as ours offers much more security. Much of the power is used near the power source - i.e., driveways power homes, parking lots power businesses, etc. Excess power produced by our system can feed surrounding neighborhoods. This helps with security because if a terrorist detonates a bomb in the middle of a Solar Road and blows the road completely in half. Since both sides of the now damaged road still produce electricity, no one loses power. The decentralized power grid offers much needed national security.
In the winter, will the solar cells be able to power the heating elements in the panels?
We designed our panels so the heaters are driven by the grid and not by the solar cells - the systems are independent of one another. This is because the heaters and LEDs have to work at night, when the solar cells are incapable of producing power.
Currently, the full size hexagons are 36-watt solar panels, with 69-percent surface coverage by solar cells. This will become 52-watts when we cover the whole surface when we go into production. When we add piezoelectric, they'll be capable of producing even more power. Also, as the efficiency of solar cells increase, more power will be converted.
We tested the heaters over the winter with a DC power supply that provided them with 72-watts. This was an overkill and made the surface warm to the touch on most winter days. We still need to experiment with different voltages at different temperatures, to determine the minimum amount of power required to keep the surface above freezing. Remember, they don't have to heat up to 85 degrees like the defroster wire in the windows of your car: they only have to keep the surface warm enough to prevent snow/ice accumulation (35 degrees?).
The heaters will use more power than the panels can make at night or on overcast days, but keep in mind that the heaters will only be on when they are needed. It can be five below zero, but unless there is precipitation or snow drifts, there's no need to activate the heaters.
The amount of power a panel produces depends on the amount of sunlight. The amount of power required by the heaters depends on the temperature and the precipitation. Those who live in the northern climates will have to determine if the added safety and the elimination of snow plows, shoveling and road chemicals are worth the investment.
There will be some northern latitude after which it may not be worth it. On the other hand, it's hard to put a monetary value on all of the ways winter could be made more pleasant with heated roads! Each community, business owner and homeowner can make that decision for themselves. Once we are manufacturing, we envision a team of employees whose job it will be to evaluate sites for prospective customers and provide data to enable them to make the decision that is right for them.
Those in warm climates won't need the heating feature.
How can this technology be used to make crosswalks safer?
Load cells are electrical devices that can be used to determine the pressure on a surface. In other words, they can be used to create weight scales. Adding load cells to our Solar Road Panels essentially turns each panel into a weight machine. The load cells tell the panel's microprocessor how much weight is on the surface of the panel.
As a pedestrian steps off of a sidewalk and onto one of our crosswalk panels, the microprocessor signals to the other panels of the crosswalk that someone or something has entered the crosswalk. All panels on the crosswalk can then light up and begin to blink, warning oncoming drivers that something is on the crosswalk - even if it is the middle of a moonless night and the pedestrian is dressed like a Ninja!
In addition, the crosswalk panels can communicate with the road panels in front of oncoming cars, telling the drivers to "SLOW DOWN" in letters illuminated in the road's surface.
Can Solar Roadways help driverless vehicles like the Google car?
Yes. We had the unique opportunity to ride in one of Google's driverless cars during a visit to their campus in Mountain View, CA. We loved it and we really want to help facilitate this technology.
Having our panels' microprocessors mounted permanently in a fixed longitude and latitude offers a very special method of knowing exactly where a driverless vehicle is. This replaces the need to depend on satellite communications (GPS for instance) to know where you are. It is much more accurate. They could also link the location of each of our panels into their Google Map application and use them to plot routes. Back to top
How much power does your parking lot generate?
Our parking lot is roughly equivalent to a 3600-watt solar array, and that's with only 69-percent of the surface covered with solar cells - it will be around 5200-watts when fully covered. The amount of power produced depends entirely upon the amount of sunshine available, so it varies by location, season etc.Back to top
What can Solar Roadways do to help Electric Vehicles?
A lot! One of our own favorite things about our project is how much it can help facilitate the adoption of EVs as a practical option. We think EVs are terrific! They have two big drawbacks though: range and the fact that they are typically charged with energy from fossil fuels.
Our solar driveways and parking lots will allow charging with clean energy from the sun. Imagine if just one fast food chain like Taco Bell, or one store like Walmart decided to install our solar panels on all of their parking lots. It could begin to solve both drawbacks at once: now you would have convenient places to charge while eating or shopping, and you'd be charging with renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.
And it can get better. If a Solar Roadways highway infrastructure were developed, EVs could charge while driving, thanks to the beauty of mutual induction. Each EV that was fitted with a proper power receiving plate would pick up energy from induction plates in the road while driving. This technology already exists, but there is no handy way to put those plates in asphalt roads. Our panels can provide the delivery system, make owning an EV pleasurable and convenient and help us to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels.
Why don't you just do projects where it doesn't snow and you won't have to worry about how much energy the heaters use?
We certainly could have done that. We'll have a huge potential market in southern states and other warm climates without even attempting to solve the problem of snowy/icy roads, and making our product viable in the north. But living in the north ourselves, we know the dangers that come from icy roads. We've slipped on them while walking and driving like everyone else, and we wanted to tackle this problem.
We knew how many accidents could be prevented if we were successful at incorporating heating elements. When we turned on our heating elements for the first time this winter and saw how beautifully snow free our panels become (and even dry to the touch), we were so happy we did decide to tackle this important problem and extend the areas that people could use our panels.
How will you keep the panels clean and how much power do you lose when they are dirty?
We had the opportunity to conduct a unique dirt test recently. Our drought conditions had become quite bad and everything on our property was covered in dirt/dust, including two identical solar panels that we have mounting on our roof. We decided to clean only one of them and then see how the outputs compared.
After one of the panels was cleaned,we monitored their performance throughout the day. It was sunny that day, and we learned that the clean panel produced less than 9-percent more power than the dirt covered panel. So even if we find that it's difficult to keep the panels clean, it may not be the issue many expect.
Most roads with high speed vehicles keep themselves pretty clean, as most small particles are blown off by the passing vehicles, with the exception of spills from oil, transmission fluid etc. There is a very common natural element called titanium dioxide, which turns substances like oil and grease into a powder that would be blown off by wind or washed away by rain. It's currently used on building facades to keep them clean. Spraying a road surface with titanium dioxide or a similar coating may solve the problem. Once we are able to hire a team (by meeting our goal on Indiegogo or working with an investor) we'll put some people to work on this very problem. Quite likely other solutions will be found that we haven't thought about just yet.
There will be some obvious obstacles such as oil spills, sandstorms, storm debris, etc. Here's the worst case scenario: if all else fails, we can replace snow plows with street sweepers where needed (vehicles with large rotating brushes). They're used here in Idaho in the spring to clear the roads of the sand that was used for traction during the winter months. Back to top
Have you thought about adding piezoelectric elements to your panels?
We're currently experimenting with piezoelectric elements and thermocouplers for our next design. Both of these devices can produce energy around the clock.Back to top
Why don't you start with something easier like sidewalks, driveways or parking lots before installing roads?
We get this question often. It's always been our intention to start with those applications before moving on to roads. We anticipate a learning curve, and the need to tweak our technology. We don't want to learn our lessons on the fast lane of a highway! After success with slow moving, lightweight vehicles (of parking lots, etc.), then we'll move onto residential roads.Our final goal will be highways.Back to top
What are you going to do about traction? What's going to happen to the surface of the Solar Roadways when it rains>
Everyone naturally pictures sliding out of control on a smooth piece of wet glass! Actually, one of our many technical specs is that it be textured to the point that it provides at least the traction that current asphalt roads offer - even in the rain. We hesitate to even call it glass, as it is far from a traditional window pane, but glass is what it is, so glass is what we must call it.
We sent samples of textured glass to a university civil engineering lab for traction testing. We started off being able to stop a car going 40 mph on a wet surface in the required distance. We designed a more and more aggressive surface pattern until we got a call form the lab one day: we'd torn the boot off of the British Pendulum Testing apparatus! We backed off a little and ended up with a texture that can stop a vehicle going 80 mph in the required distance.
This is such a great idea. Don't you hear from investors who express interest in investing in your project? Why are you asking for help on Indiegogo?
Yes, we do receive interest from people who want to invest or buy stock. Our Advisory Board advised us early on not to accept small investments, and we have various fears about loss of control that can come with bringing in a large investor. We hesitate to go public (sell stock), because we'd then be answering to stock holders who might want us to move our manufacturing overseas, along with all of the jobs we'll create.
We will complete our contract with the Federal Highway Administration in July and will need to begin considering investors at that time, if we are unable to raise enough money through Indiegogo to prevent that need. The idea to launch a crowdfunding campaign came to us from so many supporters that we looked into it. We have always been concerned about protecting our vision to implement this in the way that we think will have the most benefit: creating American jobs rather than outsourcing and then adding manufacturing facilities in other countries. That way we could help the economies everywhere providing many thousands of jobs. We have a vision for the way our facilities will be - campus like - with a positive atmosphere. We want to use as many recycled materials as we can and keep our manufacturing process as green as possible. We could go on, but you get the picture. If we can raise enough funds here, we won't have to take on an investor and we won't have to worry about losing our focus. If you like our vision and want to help, we'd be honored to have you in our corner.
What kinds of things have you tested for during your contract with the Federal Highway Administration?
The biggest concern for testing was the structural integrity of our panels. We had to make sure that our panels had enough traction, strength, and toughness to support heavy trucks on our nation's highways.
We had our glass traction tested, load tested, and impact resistance tested at university civil engineering labs around the country. It passed all tests with flying colors.
In addition to the structural tests, we've created and tested LED patterns, wireless networking for the microprocessors in the panels, protocols for communications, 3D finite element model testing, and many many more tests.
What are all of the different applications for your panels?
Besides roads, our panels can be used for parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, bike paths, patios/decks, playgrounds, tarmacs, amusement parks, sport courts, walkways, pool surrounds, stadiums/arenas... basically any outdoor surface that can be walked or driven upon. Finally, they can be used in disaster relief: lowered down by helicopter after earthquakes etc. to provide needed power and light.Back to top
What will an earthquake do to a Solar Roadway?
While we haven't had a chance to test it yet, we understand that an earthquake can be catastrophic for a road of any type.
Basically, any such force that could destroy an asphalt or concrete road would have a similar result with a Solar Roadway. Power will not be lost however: only the damaged panels will stop producing.
Also, we'd like to talk to earthquake scientists to see if we could embed some type of sensors in some of our panels which might aid them in data collection and prediction. As scientists get better at predicting earthquakes, the Solar Roadways could be used as a warning system and could help direct traffic away from an earthquake area.Back to top
Have you had any support from celebrities or famous people?
Yes, and it helps us so much when well known people offer their support. Here are some of those
who have shared (a lovely mix of actors, scientists, comedians, thought leaders):
Those who have Tweeted: Mark Ruffalo, John Doerr, Justin Timberlake, Arik Ring, Susan Sarandon, Jeri Ryan, Yoko Ono, Sam Champion, Warren Whitlock, Mark Edward Smith, Shannon Kook, Ian Harding, and Shay Carl.
Those who have posted on FB: Julian Lennon x 4, George Takei x 2, MythBusters, I F#&%($@! Love Science, Give a S@&^ about Nature, The Sierra Club, Phil Radford (former CEO of Greenpeace), Yoko Ono, Jesse Ventura, An Inconvenient Truth, and Clyde Butcher.
Nathan Fillion talked about us in a wonderful video
Bill Maher wrote about us in his blog
Lee Camp and John F. O'Donnell did a great skit about Solar Roadways for Redacted Tonight
And of course we have been blessed with so much many articles written about our project as well: News
Won't an EMP take out your Solar Roadways?
The term electromagnetic pulse (sometimes abbreviated EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation that results from an explosion (usually from the detonation of a nuclear weapon) and/or a suddenly fluctuating magnetic field.
Interaction between a magnetic field and any conductor will cause an induced electromotive force (voltage). If enough power is transferred to the circuit the increased potential can damage sensitive electronics.
In order to cause a disruptive EMP, a great deal of energy is required: this is why we most commonly associate EMP with the sun or with nuclear blasts: both are very large sources of energy.
Distance effects EMP because EMP is a short burst of energy that immediately begins travelling out from its source in all directions. As the distance from the source increases the energy gets spread over an ever widening sphere that we call a wave front.
Assuming that no energy was transferred into anything (meaning that the EMP had no effect on its environment), the best case scenario is that the power density at the wave front would exponentially drop the farther that you are from the source.
We can shield against EMP like any other type of electromagnetic radiation: with shielding and proper grounding, which can mitigate or eliminate the effects of EMP. Shielding places a conductive surface between the source of the EMP and the electronic components. When the harmful radiation encounters a conductive surface energy is transferred from the magnetic field into the conductive surface and shunted safely to ground. This leaves less of the energy available to be transferred into the circuit. Protection diodes, which provide a low impedance path around low voltage circuitry, can also be utilized to minimize the effects of inductive voltage spikes.
Our electronic equipment can and will be hardened against external interference for a variety of reasons including EMP. In theory, if a massive EMP event such as a nuclear bomb were detonated above the solar roadways (or any other electronic system) the damage caused could be significant and difficult to predict.
While theoretically possible, the bomb would have to be rather significant which carries its own set of consequences beyond the performance of power distribution. A small fraction of the energy from the bomb is actually converted to EMP the rest being converted to the physically destructive forces of the bomb.
The advantage of a system like solar roadways in such a scenario lie in its decentralized nature. Even in a large event with proper design, damage can be mitigated and the likelihood of all or even most of the system being damaged beyond functionality are significantly reduced. With increased implementation and physical size of the power distribution system, the increase in power required to 'knock out' the system increases on an exponential scale.
In a centralized power system, any event that can disrupt the power at that single point will disrupt power downstream. With limited interconnections in our current power system, an EMP of massive scale is not required to disrupt power to a vast number of people; a smaller EMP that is much more easily realized with much more accessible technology can cause widespread outages.
So in conclusion, do we believe that a decentralized Solar Roadways system would offer more protection against EMPs than our current system? Yes.
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