Close your eyes and picture a roadway, or any pavement, for a minute – a highway, a sidewalk, your driveway, a parking lot. What is it doing? It's sitting there… eroding. Meanwhile, cars, bikes, people, and animals are walking and driving on top of this pavement constantly. They provide a way of easy transportation from place to place and that's about it.
Now, I want you to think about all the troubles that pavement causes you or the construction workers that have to deal with it. The pavement cracks, it gets potholes, snow falls on it and needs to be shoveled or plowed off, lines need to be painted on, it needs to be resurfaced which causes long tiring seasons of construction that only lead to traffic jams and other difficulties.
What if I told you that you would potentially never have to shovel or plow snow off that pavement again? Or, that you would never have to drive over another pothole? Or, that your energy bill could be drastically cheaper? Do I have your attention yet? This could all be true with one proposed solution – solar freakin' roadways.
What are solar freakin' roadways? Well… they're roadways made out of solar panels. The video above explains everything there is to know about them. They were invented by Scott and Julie Brusaw, and involve many hexagonal panels that interlock with each other to form a roadway! Underneath these panels are a complex array of electronics that perform a number of jobs. These panels can store off solar energy, control a number of LED light configurations on top of the panels, or even power heated pads on top of the panel that will melt ice or snow away.
Do solar roadways sound too good to be true? Will solar roadways actually be the roads of the future? The answer is… probably not. Why? Well let's look at where we're at today. In November of 2014, the Netherlands laid out the first solar roadway for public use. The roadway (which is a bike path) measures approximately 230 feet long, and produces enough power for 3 homes. Okay, so it's certainly not the most efficient thing in the world considering that the project will cost $3.7 million in USD by the time the remaining 100 feet get completed by 2016.
Let's do a quick calculation. 330 feet of solar roadway costs about $3.7 million. Currently, the National Highway System includes over 164,000 miles of highways in the US. 164,000 miles x 5,280 ft per mile = 865,920,000 ft of highway. 865,920,000 ft @ $3.7 million per 330 ft = $9,708,800,000,000. Yes, that's $9.7 trillion. $9.7 trillion just for the amount of highways in the US. This doesn't include any of the millions of miles of other roads. Also, that's not taking into account the width of the highway which multiplies the cost significantly due to area.
Additionally, it doesn't help that the solar roadway produces about 30% less energy than a traditional set of solar panels placed on a roof. This is because the roadway is mostly flat, and can't be angled to follow the sun throughout the day. The roadway is slightly angled towards the sun to help pick up more rays, and also to help rain wash off dirt and other things on the road, but still doesn't perform nearly as well as your traditional rooftop solar panels.
So, are solar roadways practical today? It's pretty obvious they aren't. With the amount of cost involved and the poor efficiency, it just makes sense to have solar panels on roofs or other places for now. However, this all goes without saying that the concept is out there. It has been proven that it can be built and implemented, and that's a start. All innovative ideas have to begin somewhere. The Wright Brothers probably never imagined that a jumbo jet that can carry hundreds of people across an ocean would ever come from their original concepts, but it did. As far as solar roadways go, there may be breakthroughs in getting the cost down of building them, and perhaps better ways to get more efficiency out of them. Only time will tell. Until then, your pavement is going to look and be built the same that it has for years now.