Monday, January 26, 2009

Roads of the Future

As a reluctant freeway commuter, I frequently find myself yearning for more clearly-delineated lanes, particularly during rainy nights in Minneapolis (I'm not sure why, but for whatever reasons the lane markings in Minnesota seem to perform horribly during wet conditions). Overhead roadway lighting helps, but is less than desirable for a variety of reasons (ambient light pollution, non-trivial energy costs, maintenance and installation costs, etc.). And after all, the problem often isn't not being able to see the whole road, per se, but rather not being able to see lane boundaries.

With that in mind, Luna Road has developed a line of solar-powered in-pavement LED lights that illuminate lane boundaries (pictured above). Each light is a self-sustaining unit that runs off the power gleaned from the sun, so the net operating energy demand of each light is effectively zero. Not only is this dramatically more efficient than overhead roadway lighting, but it also comes without the ambient light pollution and aesthetic unpleasantries (a sort of yellow haze) that's common with overhead roadway lighting.

As far as I can tell, the big advantage of Luna Road's LED lights over reflective technologies such as Botts' dots and cat's eyes is that Luna's lights provide illumination even when there is no line-of-sight to an original light source (such as a car's headlight). In my limited experience driving in California (where Botts' dots are ubiquitous) I've never found this to be much of a problem. But where I really think Luna's lights could come in handy are in situations where they may be covered by a thin layer of ice or snow, situations in which refelctive technologies may not be too effective. Luna's website doesn't really address whether the lights are "snowplow-proof", but in an email exchange with Richard Sabga (the company's president/founder), I learned that the LR-200 and LR-400 are flush with the road surface and therefore potentially compatible with snowplows (I'd have to see some test results to be completely convinced).

Nevertheless, Luna's LED lights are a very intriguing product and are a great example of a solution that is designed around the benefits (sunlight is ubiquitous, at least in small amounts) and limitations (solar power doesn't scale all that easily) of a carbon-neutral energy source.

Via sustainablog.