Solar Roadways Idea Wins Popular Vote for Ecomagination Prize

1,212 4 Loading

The dream of driving across America on solar panels took another small step towards coming true. Scott and Julie Brusaw's Solar Roadways concept beat out 3795 other ideas to win the popular vote in GE's Ecomagination Challenge and a $50,000 prize. That money is only a small fraction of what the Brusaws will need to produce a working prototype of a roadway solar panel and develop it for mass production, but every penny helps. Solar Roadways is up for $100,000 more from Ecomagination when the contest ends in November, and the project has received various grants, including one from the US Department of Transportation. I'm still not sure about the practicality or safety of driving on glass solar panels, but the world seems to be in favor of the idea. And the Brusaw's are working tirelessly to make it happen. Listen to Scott Brusaw's victory phone conversation with GE in the audio clip below. It all sounds so reasonable when he describes it.

We recently reviewed Solar Roadways and Brusaw pretty thoroughly, so I won't get too bogged down into the details. Suffice to say that the United States has thousands of miles of roadways. If you could create a solar panel that you could drive on, those roads would represent a perfect location for a public solar grid that could power the entire nation. Brusaw calculates that such a system would cost about the same (adjusted over lifetime) as many traditional roads. Each 12' by 12' drive-on solar panel has a target price of $10,000. Sort of makes the recent $50k prize seem rather small, right? Especially when you consider how much money, and effort, needs to be placed into finding a glass surface that can stand up to constant auto traffic. Brusaw and his colleagues have yet to produce such a material. Until they do get a working prototype it won't be clear if the Solar Roadways concept is feasible or fantasy. GE's Ecomagination prize is a nice start, but the money is only a small success. The real victory is that people believed in Solar Roadways enough to vote it up to #1. It'll be interesting, maybe hilarious, to see if that faith turns out to be well founded in the years ahead.

[image credit: Solar Roadways (modified)]

[sources: Solar Roadways, GE]

Discussion — 4 Responses

  • Ram October 22, 2010 on 12:08 am

    This is an absolute JOKE.

    The $1000 per ton of Asphalt is poppycock.

    The California Department of Transport index the price of asphalt per ton as never going above $500 in 2010.

    That works out at roughly 9x less expensive than the cost of solar road, and thats not factoring the likely increased costs of skilled labor, a more complicated construction process, and the cost of the magical transparent road material.

    There’s NO mention of maintenance costs, which you can bet will be vastly higher than that for Asphalt.

    ” If you could create a solar panel that you could drive on, those roads would represent a perfect location for a public solar grid that could power the entire nation”

    Why is a surface that takes constant wear, needs constant maintenance and repair, spends a significant amount of time blocked by cars (rush hour?) and creates extreme disruption to work on a “perfect location” for public solar?

    Why are we even acting like it makes sense to use roads for power generation AT ALL?

    Many US cities are in bad areas for solar generation, and therefore a huge amount of road is. there is a HUGE amount of prime solar land in the US, there is no need to start tearing up road to do get it.

    No readily available Photovoltaic has come close to the cost efficiency of parabolic stirling/steam turbine solar generation.

    Line losses remain cost effective up to 7,000 miles, and from prime solar land to each coast is less than 2,000 miles. Not to mention strategically placed water reservoirs to store solar energy can alleviate these losses even more.

    If GE really wanted to get publicity by wasting money, they should have burnt it, at least we would have actually seen something for the money.

    • Phoenix Woman Ram October 25, 2010 on 7:53 pm

      Have you gone to the Solar Roadways site, Ram? Most if not all of your questions are answered there. Oh, who am I kidding? You won’t click on the link, so I’ll go there for you. From

      Won’t traffic congestion or full parking lots make the Solar Roadways less efficient?Any shade on a solar panel prevents it from producing at its maximum capacity. However, traffic or parked cars will have a negligible impact. For instance: [aerial picture of typical Orange County, CA freeway during rush hour] 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. [PW notes: well over 50%, from what I can see.]

  • Phoenix Woman October 25, 2010 on 8:05 pm

    Let’s see, here:

    — Instead of turning over large chunks of wilderness to solar arrays or wind turbines, it turns parts of the earth that we’ve already un-wildernessed into both power generators and power transmitters

    — Instead of having the power generators hundreds if not thousands of miles from the places where the power’s used, the roads will allow power to be generated near or in the areas where it’s most heavily used (the more pavement, the more power generation), thus reducing if not eliminating transmission losses that add up quickly when power’s transmitted over long distances

    — Eventually, there will be no more “running out of gas” on the road, as built-in chargers will power our cars

    — A major source of pollution, particularly in inner cities, and of greenhouse gases, goes away

    And that’s off the top of my head.

    People have been chasing the cold fusion chimera for decades. The only real technical issue with the solar roadways is glass that’s strong enough to drive on yet cheap enough to use in $10,000 panels. (The cleanliness issue’s already been addressed with “self-cleaning glass”.) If Karl Rove would throw a few million their way, instead of using his “American Crossroads” group to push the interests of Big Oil, the Solar Roadways people would have their glass inside of a year.

  • Richarddarmour October 30, 2010 on 3:42 am

    Here’s the thing. I love the concept of Scott Brusaw’s solar road, however I hope he doesn’t make the mistake of attempting to invent the car before the wheel. I understand prototypes are supposed to highlight all the possible features, however unrealistic, that the product could possibly have before inevitably cutting back to the more practical concepts for the final product. And this is what i would like to see, Scott. For now, you need to prioritize what you want your road to do and focus on that feature (power production, for instance) and add other features later, balance the economical potential of each integrated component, and, more importantly, conceptualize the solar road not as a separate entity, but as complimentary to the asphalt variety.

    What he is suggesting isn’t all that ground breaking, most of the technology is there. We already have sensors built into our city streets to allow traffic lights to change accurately, but Scott Brusaw needs to focus on a simpler proof of concept with a fraction of the efficiency but also a fraction of the price of this proposed solar road. Have these first solar roads installed with this simple functionality in local shopping plazas as a proof of concept. In the future, he can update the system to integrate all of the components he is suggesting.