1.6 – This is the number of planet earths we need to provide resources and absorb our waste (The World Counts 2015). Currently, our civilisation consumes 15 Terawatts of power from a combination of energy sources (The Economist 2008). To give you an idea of just how much weight this carries, you should note that 1 Terawatt can power 10 billion 100-watt bulbs at the same time. But this isn’t just about the now. In 2030, global energy needs are predicted to be more than 50% higher than what they are today (International Energy Associations 2005). Energy sources are not infinite, and it seems while we go about our busy day-to-day lives, many of us forget to stop and think about the consequences of our takings, and how they will inevitably worsen the lives of the generations to come. Eventually we will strip our resources bare, they will run out – it’s not a matter of if, but when. So what are we doing to prepare for the day we drink our planet dry?
Inspiring technologies are emerging from the United States that replace the likes of roadways, parking lots and side walks with intelligent, micro-processing interlocking hexagonal solar units, or in other words – solar-powered roadways (Solar Roadways 2015). These units are produced with a specific glass material, designed and tested to meet all impact load and traction requirements. It’s creators, Scott and Julie Brusaw have ambitious visions for its future, proposing a technology that generates electricity which pays for itself.
Not only do the solar panels produce clean energy but they also have several innovative secondary design features. The panels use the energy they store to keep the surface temperature above freezing, eliminating the dangers of icy roads and snow for those who live in cold climates. Every panel has a series of LED lights that can be programmed to light up road lanes, pedestrian crossings, warning signs and parking configurations, which can be re-adjusted at any time, eliminating the need to re-paint road lines. They even let you choose your preferred sports-field configuration. The panels are pressure censored so they can detect when large debris such as branches or boulders have fallen onto the road, or if an animal is crossing they can warn drivers with LED texts to slow down for an obstruction. If the technology is damaged or malfunctions, it simply requires the individual panel to be replaced (Solar Roadways 2015).
A solar technology that can power the future of the entire planet – it’s an ambitious vision that is a long way away from a concrete realty. But despite facing heavy criticism in regards to its potential for realistic application, smaller but similar initiatives around the world have rebutted such claims, proving that maybe its realisation isn’t as far off as many may think.
In 2014 the Netherlands introduced the world’s first solar bike lane – a 70 meter stretch of solar-powered roadway. The road is made up of rows of crystalline silicon solar cells embedded into the concrete, and covered with a translucent layer of tempered glass (Collective Evolution 2014). The panels generate approximately 30% less energy than those placed on rooftops, still, that is 30% more energy generated than the roads we use today.
The World Counts 2015, Current World Energy Consumption, viewed 30 April 2015, <http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/current_world_energy_consumption>.
The Economist 2008, A Survey of The future of Energy: The power and the glory, viewed 30 April 2015, <http://www.economist.com/node/11565685>.
International Energy Asociations 2005, World Energy Prospects and Challenges, viewed viewed 30 April 2015, <https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/birol.pdf>.
Solar Roadways 2015, Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways!, motion video, YouTube, viewed 30 April 2015, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlTA3rnpgzU>.
Collective Evolution 2014, Netherlands is the First Country to Open a Solar Road for Public Use, viewed 30 April 2015, < http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/11/09/netherlands-is-the-first-country-to-open-solar-road-for-public/ >.
Solar Roadways 2015, Introduction, viewed 30 April 2015, <http://www.solarroadways.com/intro.shtml>.