solar roads

Believe it or not: a 3rd look solar roads

Yesterday I shared that I was quite looking forward to my time on the blog with 'believe it or not', and I even sought to channel the spirit of Mike Nemeth in the finding of something wonderfully odd.  Well, it seems that I channeled a bit too well.  I had prepared piece on something I thought was super cool--solar roadways.  Yeah, roads made of solar.  I was pretty thrilled until I was adding labels and 'solar roads' autofilled for me.


Turns out Mike already covered these guys in 2011 and so did Sandy, in 2010.  So, I thought I could scrap it, pull together another post and voila! the first BION.  Well, that didn't happen.  You see, blogging is lovely, but it's not my day job--not by a long shot.  I like the open road--or so I tell myself. So in between a trip to Firebaugh Wednesday evening and an early morning in Visalia today the best I can give you is the SJVCEO third annual Solar Roadways post!

Cue the confetti!

I'm keeping my original post--you can find it down below. However, I felt the third annual look at solar roads deserved a little something extra; it needed a TED talk.  Why?  Because TED talks make me happy.  They make me feel infinitely smarter than I am. Sometimes they depress the heck out of me.  But no matter what feeling they produce, they always make me feel something.  That, and I have a nice little daydream about my own TED talk and being on that big black stage.  It is almost as awesome as my daydream of advising a sitting president on energy policy, or presenting to the UN General Assembly.  All awesome, just different levels.

Luckily, Scott Brusaw, the founder and engineer behind Solar Roadways hit the TED stage--or the TEDx stage.  TEDx is a totally new discovery for me. Turns out there are independently and locally organized TED-ish talks.  The self-organized events are designed to "spark deep discussion and connection in a small group".  The TEDxSacramento was in sync with Sandy, and in 2010 invited Mr. Brusaw to break it down TED style on solar roads.

I actually really like this talk. Once he gets past the nervousness and "early days" and gets into his passion, he sells it.  This could be huge, and it's Mr. Brusaw's love of the project that makes me think so.  We always say there's no silver bullet that can fix our energy conundrum; maybe, if solar roads make it we could at least have the LED lit road that gives us the path to get there.

*my first run at solar roads*
Occasionally, or every day, my husband will send me something he found on Reddit .  To his credit it is often something about a Saint Bernard, or politics, a really cool "I am a" but more often than not it's about something sort of related to my job.  That's right--my husband is my slave driver--never letting me leave the office behind!

Okay, okay, he's not that bad.  He finds me jewels like the video below.

These guys are making roads out of...wait for panels.  Yup, 'believe it or not' you could one day be driving on an energy producing, solar panel paved interstate! See what the heck is going on here:

Road trip: Solar roads and 50 states of sustainable stuff

The Solar Roadways project is working to pave roads with solar panels that you can drive on.

Co-founder Scott Brusaw has made some major steps forward, according to the folks at Your Environmental Road Trip. This is the second video but the first ever recorded of the Solar Roadways prototype. It has received 1.06 million views on youtube since its June 2010 debut.

For more information, visit

The YERT guys also have a movie out that chronicles what three videographers discovered in the green energy-sustainable living spectrum found in a year-long road trip over 50 states.

The film includes some of the most interesting people and projects I've ever seen. There's a guy who lives in a cave. He is what he is. And there's a guy who draws hundreds of thousands to a museum that features repurposed materials by a "politely wacko" industrial artist. Another guy turned his yard into something out of Lord of the Rings.

The donate snow scenes are must-see. Really dopey.

Here's the synopsis of "Are We Doomed?":

"50 States. 1 Year. Zero Garbage? Called to action by a planet in peril, three friends hit the road -- packing hope, humor ... and all of their trash -- searching for innovators and citizens solving humanity's greatest environmental crises. Piling on personal challenges as they explore every state in a year (the good, the bad, and the weird), an unexpected turn of events pushes the team to the brink in this award-winning docu-comedy. Featuring Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson, Will Allen, Janine Benyus, Joel Salatin, David Orr, and others."

The Road to California's First Solar Highway?

California is a big state, and I've traveled most of it. I started my career at the extreme north, lived for a while near the south end and ended up in the middle. My sister is in the Bay area and my daughter attends University of Oregon, so I'm on Interstate 5 and Highway 101 quite a bit.

Those ribbons of roadway provide a wonderful service, transporting people and commerce. But I've often wondered: isn't there more we can do with them? Could they perform some sort of double duty?

Maybe they can. A proposed pilot project involving the state Department of Transportation would use solar panels along freeway interchanges to generate power. The sites are between Gilroy and San Jose on Highway 101.

Read more about them here, here and here.

The idea of solar roads isn't new. In fact, Oregon completed the nation's first one in 2008 at Interstates 5 and 205 (pictured above), and The Netherlands is paving bike paths with solar panels. Learn more here and here.

California seems like an ideal place to test the concept of solar roads. It has more sunny days than Oregon, and a mandate of 33 percent renewables. Gov. Brown, in his green jobs plan, endorsed the creation of a solar highway.

The pilot project would be in the Bay area, but I would love to see a test in the San Joaquin Valley, where temperatures can reach triple digits in the summer and highways shoot through large stretches of undeveloped countryside.

The Valley has rich solar potential. Dozens of projects are on the drawing boards, and more farmers are using solar arrays to help run their dairies and packinghouses. We are hearing more about solar panels on rooftops and on parking garages. Solar panels are already over our vehicles; maybe soon they'll be under them as well.

Photo of Oregon solar road by

These Water Treatment Plants Won't Go to Waste With Sun Power

Increasingly, solar and water mix nicely.

Here in the sun-rich San Joaquin Valley, cities are looking at solar as a way to cut power bills at energy-sucking wastewater treatment plants. Tulare and Madera have them, as does Parlier, while officials in Atwater are on tap, so to speak. It would be the city's biggest-ever endeavor, but one that could save millions of dollars in years to come.

We've written about the proliferation of solar in and around water sources. Check out this blog from May.

It makes sense. Water is heavy, and wastewater plants, which are among the largest energy users in most cities, have lots of space atop and near their water tanks. In fact, Greentech solar asks in this article, "Are wastewater plants the new frontier for muni solar?"

(And maybe not just for solar. Here's a story about Bill and Melinda Gates financing technology that would convert converting organic waste sludge into biodiesel and methane.)

Maybe wastewater plants are just ONE frontier for the world's most renewable resource. Rooftop solar projects could abound across the country. Research into solar roads is under way, and some places are installing solar-powered street lights. Read about streetlight projects in Missouri and Florida here and here.

What does all this mean for the San Joaquin Valley? The possibilities are eye popping. The Valley's $20 billion agriculture industry is starting to embrace renewable energy, including solar.
The Valley already has dozens of proposed solar projects waiting in the wings, and cash-strapped cities and businesses are looking for ways to slash their power bills, especially during the my-shoes-are-melting-into-the-pavement summer heat extremes.

Meanwhile, solar energy prices are dropping, and coming close to parity. In a few years, the sun could be shining even brighter on the Valley's solar industry.

(Image of Tulare's wastewater treatment plant)

A Little Space-Age Technology Could Boost Clean Energy Fortunes

It is hard to stay hopeful amidst budget deficits and cost cutting, but one recent announcement brightened my spirits. NASA plans to expand facilities at NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley to accelerate advancements in clean energy and other technology.

The goal is to share ideas and, in this era of austerity, provide an infrastructure for innovation in the emerging renewable-energy industry. Fascinating work is under way - from solar roads and sun-powered backpacks for the military to solar balls that create drinking water - but NASA's increased attention could spark even more.

Gov. Brown has an ambitious green jobs platform, and legislators have signed on with strong endorsement of a 33% renewables standard. The legislation, assuming Brown signs it, puts the standard in concrete and provides a foundation for investment. Much can be accomplished when research capability is combined with incentive.

Perhaps parity with other forms of energy could be achieved more quickly. Some experts predict that solar power in sunnier parts of the nation could be less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour by 2012 (the average retail price of electricity for businesses and consumers in the United States is 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour.)

More renewable energy is laudable, but it really makes sense when development is twinned with energy conservation and efficiency. Less consumption leads to lower power bills and more money in the pockets of consumers and coffers of local governments. If they reduce power bills, municipalities such as Fresno could possibly save jobs or avoid pay cuts.

All this could help expand a new emerging economy in the San Joaquin Valley, which is ideally suited for clean energy. We have robust population growth, high power bills, low incomes, lots of sun and vacant flat land, access to the transmission grid, a strategic mid-state location close to three major power-sucking metropolitan centers, and college campuses that are research leaders in solar, biofuel, agriculture and water.

Californians have embraced renewable energy. Big business and the military are on board. Maybe NASA will give a space-age boost to everything.


Roads As Energy Producers! Not As Crazy As It Sounds

Rooftops, light poles and bus shelters are doubling as power generators, so is it really such a stretch to think that roadways could do the same thing? Thousands of miles of roads in this nation bake under hot temperatures. Surely there is a way to tap into that.

There is. Scientific American has already written about it, and Clean Technica has a fascinating piece on how researchers are starting to harvest energy from America's roads. Researchers in Rhode Island say solar panels can be affixed to median barriers and the little strip of roadway alongside them.

Existing technology also could heat the underside of bridges, melting ice and creating a power source for nearby buildings and power plants. There also is research into using new materials - think pig poop - to make roads, thus relying less on petroleum-based products.

California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown is thinking along the same lines. He wants to boost the state's green-energy profile and creating a solar highway is one way to do that, he says in his new jobs plan.

Political and budget challenges are ample, and who knows where all this will lead. But California has severe water and air pollution problems, and voters in the recent election sent a message that a future with clean energy is important to them.