Journey to a Greener Planet

Written by: Patrick Brogan

Close your eyes and imagine a world with almost unlimited renewable energy. Now imagine that this energy source is built upon already existing infrastructure and will require no additional land usage. What are you seeing? 

UHI

Have you ever been in a large metropolitan area and the heat was almost unbearable? That could be because of the Urban Heat Island Effect, or UHI as the cool kids call it. This is a natural reaction to the movement of people (both in person and transport), insufficient insulation in buildings and heat being trapped in cityscapes. This negative cycle can also impact on air quality and other environmental factors. 

One major source of this phenomenon in the urban sprawl is the roads and carparks that carpet our cities and towns. Or, as The Guardian explains;  “The urban heat island effect occurs because the dense dark surfaces such as bitumen on roads and building materials used in cities accumulate and store heat during the day and then release it at night.”

So, that seems like a bit of a bummer. But, there could be one solution and it’s genius. Solar Roadways would also help with the bigger issue of global warming and climate change. Most roads are made from the by-products of oil and petroleum. All of that would be cut down as the solar panels are made primarily from recycled materials. Then there’s the obvious fact; if the roads are covered in solar panels, there will be less need for imported fossil fuels. Not only is that good for the environment, it would be good for the economy, too. 

Road safety would be greatly improved, also. The panels can be heated so as to avoid icy conditions. They are pressure sensitive as well, meaning a driver would be notified about debris like falling trees or rocks, animals crossing or road collisions up ahead through reconfigured leds on the panels. This function can also double up to limit the amount of light pollution, light sources can be turned off if they are not needed.  Powerlines can be run alongside the roads in specially created channels avoiding the need for potentially dangerous pylons and towers.  

How would it work?

Solar panels would be installed over pre-existing structures like roads, car parks and runways. They are created using a specialised glass that can grip tyres, but also be pressure sensitive. The panels capture the sun’s power and transfer it to an energy grid, thus reducing the need for foreign imported carbon-based products. As it is a sort of hive system, any panels that are damaged can show up in the system and can be replaced immediately. Another positive of this is it will create jobs. 

Would It Work In Ireland?

Why not? Firstly, Ireland is heavily dependent upon foreign oil. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland; “Fossil fuels accounted for 89% of all energy used in Ireland in 2018.” As well as being a massive health and environment issue, it’s also an economic handicap. Imagine the billions we spent on importing these energy sources staying in the country, or even better still, becoming a net exporter of clean and renewable energy. 

Then consider the health benefits. There were 148 deaths on Irish roads last according to the RSA in 2020 and 1,400 deaths due to air quality with the majority of these coming from burning smokey fuels which could be avoided with more solar energy. 

Is it possible?

What are Solar Roadways?

If you haven’t heard of Solar Roadways, they are basically just Solar Panels on roads, carparks and other urban areas. It’s a really clever use of already existing structures and it has a raft of environmental and social benefits. 

As already explained, Solar Roadways would help with the UHI but would it have other benefits?

As Mac from It’s Always Sunny says, through God, all things are possible, but is it likely we will see Solar Roadways any time soon? That depends on what your definition of soon is, but there is definitely a lot of work being done on this. The company behind this idea, called Solar Roadways (would you believe?), are confident this will be a common occurrence in parts of the US in the next ten years. It’s a novel idea and will take a lot of trial and error, of which there has been, but the organisation has some serious backers. An Indiegogo campaign brought in over $2 million and broke a number of records. They also have the US Government in their corner. Well, parts of it anyway. Both the US Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense have funded some of the research and development on this. 

However, this project is not all sunshine, rainbows and lollipops. Despite their backing, there are huge obstacles in place to make this a viable plan. Firstly, the funding, it is going to be expensive. Very expensive. The research and development has already cost a lot to date, will probably cost a lot more and all of that is before it is widely used across the States and the costs involved in implementing that. Secondly, is it even possible to use on roads. Can it be put in place in a cost effective manner and is capable of taking the weight of vehicles in a way that is safe? There is a lot to delve into, so for that reason we will look at the potential hurdles in a separate article. In the meantime, here is something to get you excited;

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