Solar Roadways is the brainchild of Julie and Scott Brusaw, a therapist and an electrical engineer who are proposing to pave our streets and highways with durable solar panels instead of asphalt. Currently seeking funding on Indiegogo, the project seeks to provide the entire nation with a glut of 100-percent sustainable, renewable solar energy. As implausible as it may sound, the project is now in its fifth year of development.
The Brusaw’s scheme involves modular hexagonal solar panels that link together to form a continuous roadway surface. The panels are imbedded with LEDs that “paint” the road from beneath with requisite markings and signage. They are capable of withstanding 250,000-pound loads. Integral heating elements melt snow and ice—an especially important feature considering that cleaning implements for an atypical road structure would necessitate a whole new brand of technology. If implemented, the Brusaws argue, the panels could generate enough clean, carbon-free electricity to power the U.S. three times over.
The project’s lofty ideals are slowly but surely trickling down to reality. Solar Roadways has built a trial-run parking lot and has also garnered two rounds of funding from the Federal Highway Administration, as well as a private grant. Despite these contributions, however, the project needs more than $800,000 more to reach its goal of $1 million.
Cost considerations are the project’s biggest variable. Estimates to cover the country’s roadways run at $56 trillion, or 20 times the annual federal highway budget. Long-term maintenance costs are impossible to nail down at this point, making long-term viability a looming factor. Currently, each panel costs $10,000, although those costs are expected to drop as development continues.