Harnessing Solar Power With Highways

Nancy Anderson
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Gizmag reports on a University of Rhode Island research group attempting to harness all of the solar power that falls on the nation’s millions of miles of paved roads every day. This may mean having to make some serious adjustments to the way we think about and construct roads and highways.

As it stands, highway construction is exceptionally energy intensive, especially for something used expressly by one of the largest causes of atmospheric pollution and energy consumption. Though we do reap the economic benefits of increased mobility of both people and goods, we get little else, apart from hefty maintenance bills every few years. The university study intends to change all of this, making paved roads an integral part of a decentralized power generation grid.

The article mentions four main ideas for harnessing solar power in roadways. The first of which is the incorporation of pipes into the roadbed to collect heat, which can then be used to reduce icing on bridges, or for direct incorporation into thermal power plants. It’s a good idea, but not one I would think would be equally suited for all parts of the country, given that the northernmost states are likely far too temperate for this system to be of any benefit for much of the year.

The one major drawback all of the prototypes seem to have in common is that, like most new technology, they haven’t been developed enough to make the initial buy-in worthwhile, even when you consider the payback from whatever energy might be captured and reused. Time, however, will tell.

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Mike Wrightly is mostly diesel fumes and duct tape; he grew up around heavy equipment, and holds a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering.

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