There are around 30,000 square kilometres of roads in the US, so if their plan is successful, the energy-generating potential is huge – in fact, is every paved surface was covered with their solar panels, they would produce more energy than the US consumes.
Solar Roadways’ hexagonal solar panels can generate enough power to light the road, melt ice and snow, and send leftover energy to cities.
The was first presented in 2010, but now the founders Scott and Julie Brusaw have actually set up a working prototype in a parking lot outside their lab in Idaho. And it works
The tempered glass panels not only generate energy sustainable, they also offer a superior road surface to traditional materials – they’re around 1.5 centimetre thick and withstand even 113,000 kilogram trucks driving over them.
And although they’re glass, the surface isn’t slippery and won’t ever get iced-over as it’s self-heating. It will also be able to show road markings and send up-to-date traffic messages to drivers through the inbuilt LED lights, and won’t ever get potholes.
Even cooler, if rest stops or parking lots were paved with the solar panels, they could offer charging stations for electric cars. In the future, the Brusaw’s think electric car users might even be able to charge the cars directly through the road as they drive – which means they’ll never have to stop.
So what the hell are the downsides?
Well, the system would require a trench down one side of the road to hold power cables, Engadget reports. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it could also be used to store cables for a future high-speed data network.
And because each panel is wired, it makes repairs extremely easy. When one panel becomes faulty, the others around it let a repair person know their location.
Perhaps the main downside is that the project is expensive. The company is currently trying to raise $1 million to do more testing and refine their current product, as well as paving some smaller roads and parking lots. They’d need a lot more money if they wanted to pave the entire US road system.
But when you compare that to the price of relying on fossil fuels, maybe it’s not that steep.
UPDATE: Solar Roadways has hit their target of $1 million and we’re now a step closer to turning highways into giant solar farms. You did it, guys!