What are the top three things that most people hate about winter? The average list would probably look like this: (1) it’s cold, (2) it’s dark and (3) the driving conditions are terrible.

The cold and darkness are things we just need to accept. They are a consequence of the Earth’s tilt and our country’s latitude, neither of which are going to change.   However, one American inventor has come up with an eyebrow-raising  solution which he hopes will tackle the problem of icy winter road conditions…. and it also generates electricity.

At first glance, the invention proposed by Scott Brusnaw, an electrical engineer, seems to be a logistical nightmare. He suggests we turn our road systems into large solar photovoltaic (PV) installations integrated with LEDs, sensors, heating elements and other electronic devices to essentially create a “smart-road.”

According to his vision the road is a constructed of glass and is rugged enough to protect all the electronic components. It produces electricity, monitors road conditions, displays signals to drivers and it even heats itself to keep clear of snow and ice.

The benefit of using the road system as a power plant seems to be that it could turn an already existing structure into something with dramatically increased functionality and thereby potentially lessen land-use and construction costs associated with photovoltaics.

That is the basic concept. It may not be the first time someone has envisioned it. However, this case is unique in that now Brusnaw has been given the funding to actually try out a prototype of his design in a parking lot in his hometown in Idaho.

Will it result in a potentially game-changing technology? Is it doomed to failure? We’ll wait for the results but in the meantime one can’t help but both skeptical and intrigued by where such a technology could lead.

(Original article can be found at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/neil-reynolds/no-more-snowplows-or-icy-roads/article2287667/ )

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)