Solar Roadways: The Highway of The Future

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Over the weekend, the Solar Roadway campaign on Indiegogo has soared over to over 1 Million dollars. The idea has been around for many years, but Scott Brusaw, the man behind the Indiegogo campaign, has put it to the test.

Artist’s rendition of downtown Sandpoint, Idaho – Home of Solar Roadways Graphic design by Sam Cornett

The overall plan is to replace America’s asphalt and concrete roads with durable solar panels. The hexagonal design of the current prototype solar panel allow them to charge no matter what direction the sun is pointing, and even though the panels will be constantly covered by traffic, they’re estimated to produce enough energy to power the entire nation. Completely powering the nation with solar energy would mean a huge reduction in fossil fuel usage and a lot less pollution.

The solar energy production isn’t the only advantage; The LED lights in them will make repainting roads a thing of the past. The heat produced by each panel will make snow-covered roads obsolete. Even traffic jams could be reduced by remotely changing highway lane configurations during peak work hours. This is a fantastic idea, but is it the “highway of the future?” Probably not.

The truth is that this system has been in the prototype phase since 2009, when the company behind this idea received a government grant. The current Indiegogo campaign which has ended now at around 1.4 Million dollars was only to tweak the current prototype and turn it into a product. As it says on the Indiegogo page, “We asked for $1 million to hire an initial team of engineers to help us make a few needed tweaks in our product and streamline our process so that we could go from prototype to production.” The engineers on this team are going to have their work cut out for them.

In order to turn this into a finished product there are many technological issues to overcome. For example, what happens when one of the tiles breaks? Will other tiles near them no longer function? Will the lines dividing the roads disappear? If the glass breaks, will they pop your car tires? These are the sort of problems that would stop this from being implemented throughout America. Even if all the problems get fixed, there would be one other HUGE issue, cost.

In 2010, Scott Brusaw, the owner of Solar Roadways, estimated that a 12′ by 12′ road would cost around $10,000; about 70$ per square foot (asphalt is 3$ – 15$). If America has around 29,000 square miles of roads (~800 billion square feet), then as Aaron Saenz estimated, covering the nations roads in solar panels would cost around 56 Trillion dollars! That’s THREE times the current debt of the United States.

Phase II Prototype Solar Parking Lot – Only existing solar parking lot

It’s a cool concept to have a road system that powers the nation, melts snow, and reduces traffic jams; everyone in the world would probably love the system. However, 56 Trillion dollars is not affordable. Perhaps it is a good solution for small businesses with large parking lots, but it doesn’t scale well. That being said, technology prices are constantly dropping; who knows what the future will have in store.

Author

Anthony Kressevich

Anthony is a Criminal Justice Major at Rockland Community College. However, on the side he tends to dabble in all things technology.

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