My name is Aaron Fernandez. I am attending classes as an undergraduate Computer Science major at Mount Hood Community College. I'll be transferring to Portland State University for my BS in Computer Science after graduating from MHCC for my Computer Science AS.
This piece is a term final MLA research paper I wrote on the topic of Solar Roadways; in particular, it covers the project with an emphasis on it's impact on the environment, and why large scale innovative ideas that gain public favor and recognition can often be more feasible than immediately apparent.
One of the most renowned thinkers of the early 1900’s foresaw a future brightened by the clean energy of our nearest star. “[…] Sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy,” posited Edison, “what a source of power!” he exclaimed. While a small amount of the world’s total energy consumption is powered through solar energy, there is a potential for much more. Asphalt roads, which began in the late 1890’s, were popularized in the U.S by Edmund J. DeSmedt (Asphalt). These roads, blistering in the sun, provide us with very little apart from a surface on which to drive our vehicles; furthermore, there are several difficulties that asphalt is susceptible to. The difficulty in maintaining roads, which constantly erode and form potholes, is not only a financial burden, but a constant danger to drivers and pedestrians. Scott and Julie Brusaw, founders of the startup company Solar Roadways, proposed a solution to this and many other problems posed by our primitive roadway infrastructure. Solar Roadways intends to replace asphalt roads with encased solar panels that will provide countless benefits to our society. While many may see the short term price tag as a deal breaker, it is important for the future of our society to remain with our sights set on tomorrow. We have been given an opportunity to attain a clean future much sooner than many once believed. Our great civilization has come to one of the most important crossroads in its history; indeed, before us lays both a trail darkened by the primitive infrastructure of our past, and a path lit by the energy of a bright and innovative future.
Scott Brusaw and his wife, Julie, often tell the story of how they met at the age of four. Scott is an electrical engineer, and Julie is a passionate environmentalist. It is appropriate that they would come together in the way that they have to propose to the world an idea as innovative and environmentally conscious as the solar roadway. Their idea is to use photovoltaic cells, which absorb photons of light and directly convert them into electrons to produce electricity (NASA Photovoltaics), and encase them in hardened frames of tempered glass capable of withstanding the pressures of constant traffic. The specifications for their glass, which was developed by three separate universities, has been tested to withstand 250,000 pounds of pressure; furthermore, it is shaped to meet Federal Highway Association traction requirements for stopping large vehicles at high speeds (Brusaw FAQ). This weight is almost twice that of a standard military tank, and three times the legal limit of 80,000 pounds. The glass has also been designed to eliminate glare which would otherwise cause visibility impairments for drivers and pedestrians (Brusaw FAQ). Solar Roadways has funded their innovative project through two separate grants from the FHA, as well as a recent crowd-funding effort which turned in nearly $1,900,000 in donations as of June 2, 2014 (Indiegogo). The thousands who have donated have done so with noble cause: the project has the long-term potential to resolve many of the greatest issues currently ailing our world.
One of the most troubling and urgent matters we face is the growing threat of global climate change. Many organizations within the scientific community have released public statements endorsing the position stating "observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver." These organizations include, but are not limited to, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NASA Consensus). With the discovery of photovoltaic technology and our ability to harness energy from the light emitted from the sun, our ability to solve this problem is at our fingertips. Based on calculations by Scott Brusaw of Solar Roadways, the solar road panels would cut greenhouse gases by 75 percent. This would be achieved by eliminating the need for fossil fuel plants as well as the need for internal combustion engines (Brusaw Numbers). Our ability to rely on clean energy, rather than the worn-out pollution inducing fuels pushed upon us by the oil giants we have depended on for decades, marks a turning point in our society. A society run by clean renewable fuel is a higher form of civilization that we, as inhabitants of this planet, should all strive to leave behind for future generations. The benefits of upgrading our roadways go well beyond its ability to save our planet.
Critics of the proposal, based more on theory-crafting than cited evidence, point to its short term cost as a means to dismiss the idea as either impractical or entirely outrageous. Ian Sevantes, in an article for online media website Complex, cited just such a concern (Sevantes). This pattern of near-sighted thought has sown the seeds of doubt countless times throughout history. As costs of college education continue to climb in the U.S, students continue to invest in their future despite the increased debt they incur. Ignoring the fact that a solid education is an investment that leaves us enlightened and prepared for the future is as near-sighted as ignoring the capital gains a solar roadway would provide over time. According to the National Resource Defense Council, the U.S spends tens of billions of dollars each year on oil (NRDC). Creating a roadway infrastructure based on clean energy that eliminates our need to spend billions of dollars annually would save us immense amounts of money which would be used to pay off the project. Another important factor is that when the infrastructure is eventually paid off, it will continue to generate these savings which can be applied toward any other number of other domestic improvements. The savings this infrastructure will provide our children and grandchildren can power the innovation of technologies our generation can only dream of. Regardless of the initial price, the economic boost a project of this magnitude could provide is not limited to the distant future.
It is in the heart of every American, and indeed everyone who inhabits our great planet, to leave behind a legacy for the coming generations that we can be proud of. The educated minds of tomorrow will judge kindly the men and women who left for them an innovative society powered by clean, renewable energy. By Brusaw’s calculations, the mere construction and installation of the project would create 2,500,000 jobs for ten years. The estimate includes only installation and doesn’t factor in workers to create the circuit boards, glass paneling, software, LED lights, or people to occupy distribution centers (Brusaw Recovery). These jobs, which will revitalize the American economy and drive down unemployment, are the platform on which we can come together with the common goal of leaving behind a safe, clean world. The project would also transform jobs in the oil industry to clean jobs, and end the geopolitical struggles posed by our dependence on foreign oil. Natural resources including coal and oil have repeatedly sparked disputes leading to invasion, war, and immeasurable loss of life. Solar roadways are a means by which we can come together to save lives domestically as well as abroad.
Our current roadways are crumbling, and it is no wonder; we are relying on pollutive techniques and materials first developed over a century ago. The maintenance required in filling potholes, cracks, and eroding asphalt is costing municipalities needless dollars they could spend elsewhere. In 2010, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma alone estimated the cost of temporary pothole repairs to be $3.00-$9.00 per pothole. Having filled over 70,000 potholes (Tulsa) during that year, a conservative estimate of their cost for temporary repairs is $350,000. These are dollars being used to keep drivers and pedestrians safe from potentially fatal accidents. This is in stark contrast with the proposed solar panel roadways, which come with many safety features our current roads lack. The tempered glass paneling is impervious to potholes, saving countless tax dollars in maintenance. Broken panels could be easily replaced, saving maintenance crews time and money. The panels each contain a layer of programmable LED lighting to light the roadway with street markers, warning signs, traffic light colors, and much more (Brusaw FAQ). These safety features can save countless lives, creating a roadway system that not only pays for itself and keeps our planet clean, but also keeps our drivers and pedestrians safe from harm.
Google has recently developed technology which amplifies the idea that a solar roadway system would keep drivers safe. They have developed a car which can receive an input destination and drive completely on its own, using sensors above the car to detect objects up to 200 yards away in all directions (Google qtd.in Griggs). This technology could be advanced by allowing the car to receive information about surrounding objects directly from the roadway system. The potential for this technology is to create not only electric vehicles powered by solar energy; but further, to create self-driving cars with unlimited information about surrounding objects including automobiles, pedestrians, animals, or even basketballs and footballs thrown into the street by children. This project, while ambitiously large, is an opportunity for us to transcend the dated technologies of the 18th century and move toward the future.
Putting aside, for a moment, the social imperative presented by all of the issues this project resolves, there is still much that this project brings that our old roadway system does not. The aesthetically futuristic nature of this project is something we can be proud to leave behind for our children. To quote the recent viral video released by Solar Roadways: “It would look like freakin’ Tron out there!” (Brusaw Solar Freakin’ Roadways). While the aesthetic superiority of a solar roadway system seems to pale in comparison its other countless benefits, it may, surprisingly, turn out to be one of the most important.
Since the release of the viral video Solar Freakin’ Roadways on May 18, 2014, social media has exploded with discussion on the topic. While many are extremely excited and enthusiastic about the prospect, others remain skeptical. Many skeptics of the project cite a similar claim to dismiss the idea: they say the project is impractical compared to other solutions available to us. They claim that solutions such as lining the sides of all roads or rooftops with solar panels is more feasible because it would cost less than rebuilding our roadway infrastructure. While this is likely true, it is a premise that leaves out many key factors that must be evaluated before arriving at any such conclusion.
A solar roadway system, as opposed to rooftop solar panels, has the ability to melt the snow and ice that causes driving delays and accidents. The system increases nighttime visibility of street markings; furthermore, it paves the way to mutual induction technology for electric vehicles, which would allow them to charge while driving. It saves road maintenance crews time and money by eliminating potholes. Most importantly, there is one attribute that solar roadways have that alternative energy systems lack, which brings us back to why the aesthetics are so important: they have the public motivated to initiate change.
This idea cannot be stressed enough: any task, from the mundane to the immense, requires as a resource the motivation of those assigned with the responsibility to complete it. No student graduating high school will successfully graduate college without the motivation and drive to do so; similarly, no project as colossal as powering the U.S with clean, renewable energy will be completed without the motivation and enthusiasm of the American people. Those arguing that rooftop or roadside solar panels are a reason why a solar roadway system is impractical are missing a key point: Scott and Julie Brusaw have captivated the world with their imagination, and inspired us to believe we can do something great for the world, regardless of the scale. The inspiration of the people of the world is the resource that can drive the momentum that this project needs to begin moving forward, an inspiration that putting solar panels on our rooftops comes nowhere near providing.
While there are a plethora of benefits this project would provide, there will always be interests that stand in the way of change. Greed, coupled with a judiciously regulated free-market system, has driven corporations and conglomerates to seize revenue opportunities at the expense of the American people. In 2013, the Minnesota Attorney General asked the federal government to investigate Humana after compiling several hundred pages of documents which allegedly proved Humana was denying legitimate insurance claims to its insured. This instance speaks to the gravity of the situation; surely, those whose interests are not aligned with clean energy will fight tooth and nail to make sure this idea never sees the light of day.
“I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that,” spoke a wishful Thomas Edison about solar energy. Before us lays a choice that will affect the coming decades and even centuries to come. According to some scientists, we are in a transitional period in our history that will determine the outcome of our entire civilization. Renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku spoke on this topic. “I see two trends in the world today. The first trend is toward a multicultural, scientific, tolerant society and everywhere I go I see aspects of that birth. […] However, every time I open the newspaper I also see the opposite trend as well” he admitted. The time has come for the people of this nation, and indeed the world, to come together under a common goal and cast aside the negativism and dated mindsets that have repeatedly hindered the advancement of our society. No single individual has an obligation to put their best interests aside for the betterment of others; nonetheless, we must search within ourselves and decide what is important to us. We may continue, as we have for a century, to live in the past and blame money and greed for our problems regarding climate change; or, we can stand up and build ourselves the roads that will lead us to a bright, clean future.
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