Driving On Sunshine

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 14 2013 @ 8:23pm

Glen Hiemstra points out an unrealized opportunity for solar panels just under our noses:

What is a road? A strip of asphalt, concrete, dirt, or cobblestone on which wheeled vehicles roll. Road materials have advanced since Roman days, but not all that much, really. It is still just a hard surface, designed to support the weight of vehicles and keep us out of the mud. Twenty four hours a day, roads, parking lots, and sidewalks just sit there, and in the day time they mostly just sit there collecting heat and light but not doing anything with it.

Imagine, as Solar Roadways has, that you could replace the concrete or asphalt with solar cells beneath a layer of glass.

Operating at 15% efficiency the U.S. road system would provide more than four times our current electricity needs, or about as much electricity as the whole world uses.  … The primary complication is manufacturing glass that is strong enough for an 18-wheeler to drive on, that is clear enough to allow sunlight in but opaque enough not to emit too much glare, with sufficient traction and durable enough to last for years.

Meanwhile, Alice Marcondes heralds another breakthrough from Brazil:

What looks like a thin, flexible sheet of regular plastic is actually a solar panel printed with photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. This new material, totally unlike the heavy and costly silicon-based panels commonly used to generate solar power today, was created by scientists at CSEM Brasil, a research institute based in the southeast Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. …

“While the capacity for power generation is almost the same, its small size means that it can be given uses that are almost impossible for silicon panels,” said the chairman of CSEM Brasil, Tiago Maranhão Alves, a physical engineer who participated directly in the research. The lightweight, flexible new material can be used to power the electrical components of automobiles and in electronic devices like mobile phones and wireless computer keyboards and mice.