Roads do two things well: Carry cars, and soak up sun. What if, instead of just getting really hot, roads could generate electricity with that sunlight? That's exactly what Solar Roadways—and now, the Department of Energy—has in mind.
Solar Roadways, a single-purpose startup, just snagged a $US100,000 grant from the DoE to design and build a 3.6m x 3.6m super-tough solar panel, intended to be laid as sections of road. As it's been optimistically imagined, the panels would also have a layer of low-res LED lights, so they could display changing signage.
Given how expensive and inefficient regular solar panels are, this whole plan sounds a little far-fetched, but the benefits could be huge: the company says that they could meet the entire country's energy needs if the interstate system was replaced with its (still theoretical) panels. Neat, but there's a minor issue of cost.
To pull this into perspective, Solar Roadways say they could take 500 homes off the grid with just 1.6km of four lane solar highway. They also say their 3.6m x 3.6m panels will cost about $US6900 apiece. Assuming a width of four panels, 1.6km of highway needs to be made up of 1760 panels, which comes to over $US12 million dollars before construction costs, which usually make up the bulk of the sum anyway.
I mean, they managed to coax $US100k out of the government already, so maybe there's more to this than meets the eye. Or maybe, the Deptartment of Energy just wants to give this plan a fair shot, just make sure this won't work. Spaghetti, walls, etc. [Solar Roadways via Inhabitat via PopSci]