Electric cars seem to be inevitable, but how we will fuel them is still an open question. As I drove over 400 km of concrete and macadam to reach my parents’ home, it occurred to me that here was a lot of space sucking up the sun’s energy without delivering a single erg to my car. Was turning those roads into solar collectors that could power cars a crazy idea? Maybe.
Certainly, the idea of powering vehicles without forcing them to plug in is gaining ground. The BBC News recently covered some developing options for wireless charging of cars. Electromagnetic induction dates back to 1831. Pass power through one coil, and it can induce voltage in another if it is close enough. Cars and buses already are getting charged up this way. In the case of the buses, they can simply linger over embedded plates at their turnaround points, and they get enough of an on-the-go boost to stay in operation for a full workday. No one needs to connect an electric cable (meaning there is less chance of tripping or getting shocked).
The same article mentions coupled magnetic resonance technique (Witricity) that is in testing. It may have the advantage of working over longer distances. For a video demo, see http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_giler_demos_wireless_electricity.html .
But back to my crazy brainstorm – is it possible to turn roads into solar energy generators? And could they feed our cars? As Rod Serling used to say, “submitted for your approval” Solar Roadways. By a Twilight Zone-like coincidence, inventor Scott Brusaw has been working on that crazy idea for several years. He took the idea several steps further than I did to include lights that alert and direct. Prototypes have been built. The next step, according to Brusaw, is to build a parking lot from his modules (since this will not need to accommodate fast moving vehicles). A recent critique of renewable energy (both solar and wind) published in the “New York Times” was based on the sheer size of such projects (and ultimately seemed to recommend natural gas). Maybe a crazy idea will provide a good answer for those in favor of renewable energy sources.