There are so many potential applications for Solar Roadway® panels. The application of SR to airports is one which journalists haven’t focused on much to date, and it may turn out to be one of the most important of all. Airports are flat, unshaded and just waiting to turn the sunshine hitting them each day into energy.

Very early in our journey, when we were still in the concept phase, we began to hear from private pilots about how Solar Roadway® panels at airports could improve safety and enhance their experience.

In recent years, we’ve become frequent flyers as we travel for speaking engagements, meetings and conferences. Now we take advantage of each opportunity to photograph the tarmac and runways at airports. We think about how our technology might make airports safer, greener and more sustainable.

The most obvious way that Solar Roadways can help airports is by generating clean energy on the vast open areas: parking lots, walkways, tarmac and maybe someday (with FAA certification) even runways. A search for the electricity needs of airports turned out to be amazingly difficult. There was a lot of focus on airports trying to lower costs but no data which we were confident enough with to share. We can probably all agree that it must be HUGE! Some airports are incorporating renewables. We’d love to increase the options by allowing more walking and driving surfaces to become solar collectors.

We all hear about the thousands of travelers whose flights are delayed or cancelled due to winter storms. In spite of millions of dollars spent on the best snow removal equipment and personnel, some storms overcome airports’ snow removal capacity. As flights are delayed at one airport, it can cause a domino effect to flights at other airports. This article from Wired does a great job of painting a picture of what it takes to keep an airport free of snow and ice using traditional methods:

If we can obtain certification to install SR panels on airport tarmacs, those large swaths could just remain snow and ice free all of the time without human effort. An engineering upgrade we made when we went from SR2 to SR3 panels is that now the panels have the ability to sense the ambient temperature and turn heating elements on automatically as needed.

We were surprised when we first experimented with our heating elements and found that, not only do the panels remain snow and ice free – they are also dry to the touch. Imagine how that could enhance airplane safety.

It would certainly take extra electricity to run the embedded heating elements, but that would have to be compared to what airports spend on equipment and personnel and what they lose when flights are delayed or cancelled. We imagine it would be very valuable to keep customers safe and happy – both for airports and airlines. Compare that to this peek into the logistics of keeping Minneapolis St. Paul’s airport running in the winter:

The LED lights (available in any color an airport would like) could be used for signage and lane markers in parking lots and tarmac alike.

A runway made up of Solar Road Panels would offer numerous benefits to pilots. From the time they pull away from the terminal, a lighted arrow could lead them to their proper runway for takeoff. The same happens after touchdown: a lighted arrow can lead the pilot to the proper passenger terminal. Currently, the tower has to guide the plane all the way to the terminal. Allowing the tarmac to do this would free up the air traffic controller.

The entire runway can be used as a “heads up display” for approaching pilots. Currently, pilots approaching small airports look for a windsock to provide basic information. Instead, wind speed and direction can be displayed on the runway with a directional arrow and “14mph”. We’re not pilots, but we’ve had many pilots give us data (usually in multiple acronyms!) that pilots would love to have while approaching a runway. If disaster strikes and radio communication has been lost for any reason, then the runway can act as a display for information: “LAND HERE FLIGHT 227”.

Our research shows that our panels can withstand the weight of a 250,000-pound truck, so we are optimistic about getting approval for small planes to land and take off on our actual panels. We don’t know if we could design a panel that would be able to support the needs of large aircraft on actual runways – but we’d love to try. We would relish a grant from the FAA to allow us to work in that direction. Even if we can’t become certified for actual take offs and landings, there is still a whole lot of tarmac where planes move slowly.

Our local small county airport, here in North Idaho has expressed an interest in becoming the first model airport, showcasing how SR’s features can do for airports, airlines, pilots and travelers.

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