A research project is underway at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in America to investigate the potential for turning tarmac roads and car parks into giant solar energy collectors.
What a great idea! Cast your mind back to those hot summer days walking along melting tarmac roads..... it might seem a bit far fetched for the UK when we have summers like the one we are experiencing in 2008, but when it is hot most of us have seen at first hand how well tarmac soaks up the suns rays and warms up. Well some bright spark in the USA has patented the idea and is busy trying to make it work.
Research done already in laboratory and small scale field trials (or should that be road tests?) shows that tarmac's ability to capture energy from the sun really is very good. Handily, it also appears that the hottest part of the tarmac is just a few centimeters under the surface were it is easiest to incorporate the heat exchange pipes to make use of it. Water heated by the tarmac can then either be used directly for solar hot water applications or passed through a thermoelectric generator to create electricity.
The massive expanses of tarmac available mean that the amounts of solar energy absorbed could be huge, and the process of installation could be tied in with existing road resurfacing and maintenance schedules. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, other positives include the fact that there is no visual impact of the renewable technology and the surface temperature of the tarmac would be lowered potentially reducing overall city temperatures.
Innovation within the renewable energy sector is high at the moment with lots of new exciting projects coming to the fore. It's great to see! We have ignored the potential benefits of renewable energy for far too long in favour of relying on finite resources such as oil and coal. As many have predicted, it is economic incentives and pressures that are leading the way. Innovators are smelling a profit to be made, and as far as I am concerned, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Further innovations coming soon - inflatable solar panels! Watch this blog....
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Many thanks to Ian Britton on Freefoto.com for the picture : http://www.freefoto.com .