Some sci-fi movies are so realistic, that you may sometimes sit and wonder “what if?” Solar panels are one of those pieces of equipment that maybe 120 years ago, people thought “what if?” After all, in a time before modern pluming, let alone electricity, who would have thought that flat “plastic-y” or glass panels could actually provide a source of electricity? In 1839, a scientist by the surname of Becquerel came up with a photovoltaic theory, though it may seem very simplistic by modern standards: sunlight may be converted into electric current, or energy. In 1839, there were no silicon wafers and the terms “monocrystalline” or “polycrystalline” would have left anyone, including a scientist, scratching their head in confusion.
Fast-forward to 2016 and solar panels are becoming a mainstream favorite, particularly amongst homeowners living in the southwest US. Over the past twenty years, the cost of residential solar panels has declined substantially, making them a cost-effective and secure long-term investment. For those who frequently travel or live on the road, off-grid solar panels are becoming the new “generator” of choice. Unlike the larger, bulkier on-grid panels, off-grid panels are lightweight and can be permanently installed with relatively little effort. Perhaps more importantly, unlike gas powered generators, solar panels are nearly silent. Although many RV and boat owners install off-grid panels on their own, Renogy advises that, at a minimum, customers consult with an installation professional to avoid mistakes. With all the recent advances and reduction in costs, the consumer is left to ask, “what’s next?” in the solar revolution.
With photovoltaic, or solar technologies, the options are nearly endless. Solar panels are becoming lighter with greater flexibility, creating a greater range of everyday uses. If you’re been paying attention to the latest solar news, then you’ve already heard about personal solar aircrafts, solar powered coolers, solar powered vehicles, and solar powered boats. Perhaps one of the most surprising and useful solar developments is the potential for solar powered roadways. If you sit and think about it, the idea of installing solar panels serves two purposes: (1), a flat and safe surface for driving and (2) an electricity producing powerhouse. Although scientists and engineers are still working out the design kinks, it seems that solar power roadways will be coming to a highway near you.
Although dreamt of for many years, one Idaho startup company, Solar Roadways, Inc. is said to be making great strides in developing solar panel roads. The company is currently developing a transparent driving surface, resistant to weight fracture and stress. Perhaps this is the most difficult element of developing solar roads, as traditional solar panels are coated in clear plastic or glass. In order for traditional panels to work at optimal level, they need to be periodically cleared of excess dust and dirt. For the project to be successful, the driving surface will likely need to be self-cleaning or dirt resistant, and the underlying solar cells will need to be protected from extreme elements and weight. This is a tall order for any scientist, engineer, and manufacturing plant.
Utilizing various grants and charitable contributions, Solar Roadways has been able to test and develop a safe protective coating for the roads. The panels are also said to include low power heating elements to prevent snow and ice from accumulating, creating a safer and more versatile means of travel. Some of the first solar roadways are expected to be installed near Route 66 in Missouri in late 2016.
Although we haven’t developed flying cars or floating speedways, humans are one step closer to developing clean energy technology that can positively affect an entire community. Solar is an incredibly versatile piece of technology, with nearly endless possibilities. Here at Renogy Solar, we pride ourselves on producing cost-effective, high quality solar products for personal and commercial use. Although we aren’t going to create a roadway anytime soon, we enjoy watching other highly motivated companies making incredible advances.