Artists rendition of what the solar roadways would look like with their programmable LED lights. Art by Sam Cornett.


This is just about the best idea I’ve heard of in a very long time.

Solar Roadways are pretty much what they say on the tin: solar panels that cover the roads, generating clean electricity. They can also cover car parks, pavements, cycle lanes and any other impenetrable surface. The solar panels are encased in modular, hexagon-shaped tiles that can be replaced individually and are topped with a special kind of glass which can withstand even the heaviest trucks driving over it. The tiles are partly made with recycled materials, and they heat up slightly so as to melt snow and ice – meaning less snow-clearing costs, safer winter roads and of course year round functionality of the solar panels.

And the best bit?
How much energy these things could actually generate. The calculations, which use conservative estimates based on one of the least sunny states, show that if all roads in the USA were solar roads,each year they would generate three times the power the whole country  used in 2009.

Let that sink in for a minute. Three times the amount. 

That would completely solve fossil fuel dependency for the country, and would go a very long way towards solving the climate change problem. Especially when it’s considered that charging points could easily be set up along the roads, making electric cars very feasible and therefore cutting exhaust pollution as well.

Not content with just sorting out the energy woes of the least green nation on earth, the inventors Scott and Julie Brusaw have also included three more features into the Solar Roadways package. They come with two underground tunnels running alongside the roads. One to store electricity and data lines, meaning we wouldn’t need unsightly and sometimes dangerous pylons any more, and one to catch and transport storm water, which can be treated instead of just being discharged into waterways and causing pollution. The other function is that the tiles come complete with in-built LED lights all over which can be programmed to light up in various patterns, making road lines and signage, and also offering safety features.

Artists rendition of what the solar roadways would look like with their programmable LED lights. Art by Sam Cornett.

Artist’s rendition of what the solar roadways would look like with their programmable LED lights. Art by Sam Cornett.

I heard about this idea a couple of weeks ago, when I saw lots of my facebook friends posting about it. But until actually looking into it today I assumed it was a far off pipe dream that would be nice to have one day. So my main question – especially after finding out how exciting it could be – was obviously how far along is this idea?

In other words – is it actually going to happen?

Well here’s what stage they’re at. They’ve been given two phases of funding by the US Federal Highway Administration for design and development, the second contract was to make a prototype parking lot with the solar tiles, which they’re completing now. The surface has been tested by engineers for strength and traction and has passed all the tests. They’re now raising money for the production, and their crowdfunding campaign has raised an incredible 1.8 million dollars.

Their aim was to raise 1 million dollars in this way, and this goal has been wonderfully over-achieved. But you can still donate before the 20th June, and more cash will undoubtedly be welcome because as you can imagine, rolling this technology out across the kind of national scale they’re hoping for will be very very expensive.

I couldn’t find an estimate of what covering all America’s roads would cost, but my professional guesstimate is it’ll be a hell of a lot. But this shouldn’t be too much of a stumbling block, because it’s a very good investment: it pays for itself and solves multiple problems all at once. More importantly, it would create a lot of jobs and deliver a shot of adrenaline to the renewables sector, being fantastic for the economy. It would obviously need a lot of capital but I think they would easily attract investments from all sorts of companies.

The only real issue I see is that the fossil fuel industry will not like this.

It would make them pretty much obsolete, and they would probably try very hard to squash the invention, which could cause a real problem when considering how powerful their lobbying capacity is. This is the only real barrier I see to the Solar Roadways idea. I sure hope they can overcome this, and it’s a good sign that the Federal Highway Administration is already working with them. And that they’re getting so much attention on social media, creating a real buzz around the concept.
This video, for example, has already been watched 11.8 million times on youtube.

It should be obvious that this technology can and should be rolled out in other countries as well, and the effect on the world’s energy infrastructure and carbon emissions could hardly be overstated. Maybe one day this will be looked back on as one of those game-changing inventions, like the computer and the light bulb.

Here’s the road to the future, and it’s powered by the sun.





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