Solar Roads: Feasible Future or Pipe Dream?

By now you have probably heard of the proposal to build solar roads. It has been making the rounds for a week or so and has reached viral status online. Some very enthused and ambitious engineers out in Idaho are attempting to fund a project to build roadways that also act as solar panels.

artists rendering of Solar Roads

If you missed it or want a refresher, here is the video from their Indiegogo campaign.

What is being proposed is this: A roadway constructed from glass and a series of LED lights and other high-tech equipment. The most recent prototype has all electrical lines and wires underneath the roadway and can potentially eliminate underground or overhead power lines. Obviously this alone is a major positive step, because overhead power lines can be dangerous to humans and wildlife. Additionally, all of the lines on the roads can be “drawn” with LED lights, eliminating the need for painting lines. Perhaps most importantly, these roads will act as solar panels (photovoltaic cells), they will be able to self-charge and provide power to the “grid.”

Now, raise your hand if you think that sounds crazy. I will admit to having my doubts, but I do love the idea, at least in principle. High-tech electronics and wiring often use large amounts of rare and unsustainable resources, but if these roads don’t need to be constantly repaved and rebuilt (like our current asphalt roads), then they may still be a win. Not to mention that asphalt is essentially just petroleum, and we know that excessive fossil fuel production and burning is a leading cause of climate change. With this proposed solution, we can eliminate paved roads. In America, driving is probably near or at the top of the list for most individuals when it comes to carbon footprint (along with cooling and heating our homes and our consumption based lifestyle). In my opinion, every little bit helps, and this project may provide a significant step in the right direction.

If you are worried about these things working or about testing, funding, etc… You should note that these guys have been around since at least 2010. Here is the video of their first prototype (2010).

They have been funded twice by the Federal Highway Administration. They have proven that the design actually works and are now attempting to generate funding for production. You can read more about all of that here.

Now, large scale production and implementation is extremely expensive and probably far-fetched. But… what if the parking lot of every rest stop was made of these things? What about your driveway? Wouldn’t it be cool to power your house with your driveway? You could even buy and recharge an electric car on it.

Think of something like this, only for cars.

I think this small scale implementation is much more feasible than a grand plan to change all roads to this technology. Baby steps. It takes a while for cultures to accept things like this. Hard to see the government finding a way to fund this on a large scale when they can’t even agree on whether or not to “believe” in climate change. In any case, cool new technology is at our fingertips and it is great to see people utilizing it to attempt to cut down on carbon emissions.

As they said in the video, the future is not all bleak. There is a generation of more environmentally minded and educated people that is up and coming. We have a chance to make a vital difference. Degrees in fields such as scientific communication, environmental management, and ocean and environmental engineering are offered now and they may help us to continue to make huge technological strides to combat fossil fuel emissions and mitigate climate change. Keep an eye on this project and see how it does here.

TED Talk on this here and here.


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