Idaho takes another step toward roads paved with solar panels

Back in '09, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) gave Idaho-based Solar Roadways $100,000 to do what the company's name implies: build a prototype smart road that could generate electricity (as well as perform other tricks). Now, Solar Roadways is taking the next step and making its concept a reality.

The government is once again bequeathing Solar Roadways with some capital to pursue its vision, this time giving the company $750,000 to replace its own parking lot with the paneled blocks, which include an array of photovoltaic and heating elements, as well as wireless LED lights all protected by glare-free glass that offers the same traction as asphalt. This will allow Solar Roadways to monitor its baby 'round the clock, and to see if the technology can live up to its grand potential.

Just what is that potential? Well, a solar road could do a lot of things your usual paved one can't. In the winter, for instance, it could warm itself to melt the snow blocking the path, no plowing needed. It could also pump all that power it's collecting back into the grid, or — hey! — charge your car as you drive.

At this point, of course, it's all just a beautiful dream, but at least one that we'll start collecting concrete data on. Here's a rundown of Solar Roadways' prototype:

The 12- x 12-foot panels, which each cost $6,900, are designed to be embedded into roads. When shined upon, each panel generates an estimated 7.6 kilowatt hours of power each day. If this electricity could be pumped into the grid, the company predicts that a four-lane, one-mile stretch of road with panels could generate enough power for 500 homes. Although it would be expensive, covering the entire US interstate highway system with the panels could theoretically fulfill the country's total energy needs. The company estimates that this would take 5 billion panels, but could "produce three times more power than we've ever used as a nation - almost enough to power the entire world."

As pointed out in the comments below, there are still a lot of other factors to consider, too. These solar roads will obviously cost more to maintain than your average highway. The infrastructure will no doubt need to be upgraded to keep up with the demands of future electric vehicles, as well.

BusinessWeek, via CNET

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