Clean Energy Highways… Solar Powered Smart Roads in 2025

Posted on January 9, 2013 in Blog, Uncategorized

Wouldn’t it be lovely to wake up one day, lets say in a major city or in an urban area in America, and just smell clean pollutant-free air? I always took breathing fresh air for granted when I was a kid growing up in the suburbs near a forest, but after college and after working for a few years in and around a major city, I noticed how bad the air can really get near highways. To me, this all seems completely fixable. It’s a problem that’s 100% man-made, not to mention unhealthy for future generations and the land itself. Movies always try to predict the future in some dramatic fashion or another, a favorite topic of filmmakers and artists. It all started with Metropolis (1927), and more recently in films like Minority Report ( 2002), Demolition Man (1993), and Total Recall (1992 & 2012). They all attempted to predict what future city transit systems would be like. I think its one of those practical things, that everyone would dearly like to see changed for the better. And maybe some of the more wild ideas from those movies may actually come to pass – but in our own lifetime?  Maybe, but not likely. So what is possible  for 2025? It really isn’t that far around the corner. What could an ideal utopia look like in 2025?

Here’s a possibility:  Instead of having tolls, which stop cars and increase CO2  and other types of pollution, lets get rid of tolls altogether. Communities should not be punished just because they are near these pollutant zones, which the local government and state governments set up. It’s wrong. Let’s fix it. E-ZPass was an early attempt at making this practical. Even better, make tolls that are completely invisible to the driver, so that you don’t actually see it when it’s happening. And while we’re at it, if you’re going to allow billboards with animation or LED lights in your cities, you better think clearly about what that means for driver speeds and driver safety, something that I think is going largely ignored right now. OK, now that speed, safety and mobility are no longer an issue getting into cities, let’s make the roads work for us. How long will it take before scientists and engineers invent ‘smart roads’ that pump solar and thermal heat back into the grid? Cities could literally make solar power stations out of their own roads. If this was pushed forward as a national goal, and I don’t mean by subsidies, but by encouraging companies like GE ( which get huge tax benefits ) to actually build something, this will help the whole country.

If our highways and roadways became solar-powered, you could use some of this energy to have  third party companies like GE build power stations on waysides of all roads, in the place of gas stations. These would be 100% government-funded and city-owned, but maintained by third parties that rent the space to pay wages back to the city and state. This might sound a bit Marxist, but frankly, one way or another, you’re going to have to kick gas companies off their gas station real estate by force or by taxation. OK, here’s the kicker, how do you stop pollution in cities? Make a law that says all major cities in 2025 will not allow CO2-emitting vehicles to enter without applying huge tolls/fines/tickets using an E-ZPass-style system. Ideally, there would be exceptions at some level so as to not destroy existing corporations or small businesses that use trucking companies, but eventually all vehicles in the future will be encouraged to switch over to newer, non-polluting models. How is this possible? You’ve got to lower the cost of transit. Don’t subsidize oil companies And give away the energy collected from the roads for practically nothing by redoing all of our roadways ( An incomprehensible cost upfront, but with a huge return on the long term investment ). Projects are already underway, none of them are there yet. But here’s a video of what may lay ahead…

Solar Roadways | Michéle Ohayon from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

A new ‘smart road’ system would encourage massive growth in our economy. The alternative is to rely on high-speed rail, which is not going to work in America. We’re not Europe, our cities are not centrally located in concentric rings; they’re spread out all over the place, and frankly, our trains suck. To convert them all would be impractical and probably more costly than converting our roads to smart roads. And if you do upgrade the trains, you’re still not going to help small communities that rely on the roads. So pushing for clean roads, clean energy, and clean transit will change the way people commute to cities and live in them. Will trains have to improve as well? Sure. I don’t see why we can’t have Chicago day-trip commuters to Boston, NYC, Philadelphia or even Washington DC that don’t need to fly. But rail travel not for everyone, its for the select few that can afford that type of travel. Look at Acela. Currently, it is unfriendly to commute from one city to the next unless you’re in business and very well paid. And for those type of people, it is largely about lifestyle and choice versus flying, and not for reasons of practicality, or to benefit all types of commuters.

Electricity is the most likely answer when it comes to powering all types of vehicles. Unless, between now and 2025, hydrogen or nickel powered cold fusion somehow replaces gasoline, which is unlikely. But there is possibly another cost effective variant that could aid a ‘smart road’ system and help high-capacity energy stations.  In my ideal 2025, all vehicles would  primarily run on electricity, which would be collected by a combination of solar-powered roads and localized energy stations. And if you doubt the feasibility to this project, just think about LA’s needs for transit, and then think about the strip of highway on Route 66 that travels through Death Valley, where in June it exceed an index level of UV 12. Imagine if my system was absorbing just some of the solar energy from the hundreds of miles of that road. If art is a reflection of life, and life is a reflection of art, then if we can dream it, we can build it. I hope that some day this dream comes to life. Do you have better ideas or do you think this one has flaws in its merit? Please share your thoughts.

Some sources for your inspiration:

http://i.bnet.com/blogs/infographic-the-road-of-the-future.jpg?tag=content;siu-container

http://solarroadways.com/about.shtml