Solar-Powered Roads Could Answer Everything

August 1st, 2011

Aside from figuring out the little problem known as the debt ceiling that our esteemed political leaders have been bickering over for the last few weeks, our country has a few other major issues standing firmly in the way of future progress.

One is a crumbling Interstate highway system. Another is an antiquated electric power grid, and a third is our persistence to quickly burn through the world’s supply of fossil fuels.

One invention, coming from a man in the idea Mecca of North Idaho, could solve everything. Get ready for solar-powered roadways!

First, some stats:

The vast majority of energy used in the United States comes from fossil fuels. Oil, coal and natural gas provide the power and heat to keep the country running and its citizens moving. The problem, of course, is that those fossil fuels are dirty to produce, must be imported from other countries and have a finite supply. Someday, we’re going to run out.

The spiderweb of roadways spun across this land must constantly be repaired, fixed and updated. The vehicles that run on them use extraordinary amounts of fuel, further contributing the the vicious cycle of importing more fuel and repairing our roads.

No more shoveling the driveway?

Solar roadways could break the cycle and finally make the U.S. self sufficient by producing all the energy it uses and solving many of our problems in the process.

Solar Roadways, of Sagle, Idaho, has received a Federal grant of $750,000 to further test its product and idea: A solar parking lot capable of sending electricity back to the power grid. The ultimate goal, however, is to replace some 28,000 square miles of paved roads with the company’s 12-by-12-foot solar panels.

Each panel consists of break-proof glass over LED lights and connects to other panels with underground wires. The lights can be used for road markers and change to warn drivers of upcoming weather or traffic accidents. They can even provide heat to melt snow and ice. It’s all powered by the sun and could generate enough electricity to send power back to the grid and supply the entire nation with all the clean renewable power it would ever need.

Electric vehicles could thrive because anywhere there’s a road there could be a charging station.

Naturally, Solar Roadways needs to start small. If the company’s parking-lot test is successful, it hopes to expand to residential driveways, bike paths, patios, sidewalks and other parking lots. The company estimates that one mile of road built with its panels could power 500 homes.

I’ve been critical of hybrid/electric vehicles on this blog plenty of times in the past, but mostly because the supporting infrastructure doesn’t exist. Should solar roadways succeed, that hesitation disappears.

Do you foresee any problems with building roads from solar panels?

-tgriffith

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  1. Randy
    | #1

    Having spent close to 30 years working in the automotive R&D industry, I sure get a kick out of these stories. I’m glad you led off with some teasers about the debt and foeign oil problems, because this is a “product” that is a great illustration of government PORK, slathered with a thick coating of greasy political sauce.
    Did you actually read the article? Glass panels over solar cells with LED lights that can be used to heat the road and melt snow and ice. Hate to break it to you, but the whole point of LED lights is that they are so efficient they produce almost no heat. So that idea is pogey bait for the ignorant folks in Washington. And a glass road? Shucks, I’ve see two year old roads here in Michigan that are 12 inches of reinforced concrete that are split in half by overloaded trucks. Drop a 1200-pound snow plow with a hardened steel edge on that glass road and see what happens. And have you priced solar cells by the square foot recently? Such a road would cost upwards of 200-300 million dollars a mile and not produce enough power to power the homes lining the road, let alone returning power to the grid. That’s when you could get it to work, which wouldn’t be very often.
    When I hear about our tax dollars being squandered on bizarre and rediculous projects like this, I have to come to the conclusion that these folks are crooks scamming ignorant lawmakers. What a shame, because that money would go a long way in improving our crumbling roads.

  2. Jim Redd
    | #2

    From what I understand it’s not the LEDs that melt snow and nice but separate heating elements. The theory behind these seems sound to me, I think the govt is making the right choice by allowing these to be tested. I agree though- actually standing up to the punishment of daily traffic is a huge question.

  3. | #3

    Who could be stupid enough to think this will work a solar road oh please it cant be made cost effective and glass as a road needs to flex under heavy vehicles.FAIL

  4. Randy
    | #4

    Indeed, there’s an ideal place for solar cells, and that’s roofs. There are thens of thousands of acres of them in any urban area.

  5. Rob
    | #5

    I’ve heard of this guy. Actually seems believable, at least on a small scale.

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