When Streets are Paved with Solar Panels

When Streets are Paved with Solar Panels

by Kristy Dutch, May 23, 2014

What if sizzling summer asphalt actually produced energy?
Parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, bike paths, roads and all things paved may one day finally satisfy our energy-hungry appetites.

I recently heard about streets that farm solar energy from Futurist Glen Hiemestra. An Idaho company, Solar Roadways, has already received two phases of funding from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration for research and development of a paving system that will pay for itself over its lifespan, are now crowdsourcing $1,000,000 to build a prototype parking lot. Their product  produces energy at 18.5% efficiency. Meaning, if it were used on all of the US’s 30,000 square miles of paved surfaces, we could theoretically generate 14 billion kilo-watt hours of electricity. Skeptics can check out their FAQ  and numbers pages for specifics on the costs of this vision.

The prefabricated Solar Roadways panels can be replaced one at a time when damaged, have programmable LED lights that eliminate the need to ever restripe or paint the roads, and they are heated – which doesn’t do much for us in no-snow San Francisco, but I could see how other places could be really excited about this feature.

Solar Roadways aren’t the only one exploring this concept. A similarly named company in the Netherlands, SolaRoad, plans to convert 100 meters of bike path along the provincial road N203 near Krommenie, Netherlands as a pilot project this fall to research and test the materials for bigger applications.

The potential impact of applying a new layer of performance to our most basic infrastructure is exciting.  It may not make sense for every square foot of US roadways and paved surfaces, but  we could see their value in developed cities and towns where they could easily be plugged into the local grid.

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