Two electric engineers concerned about climate change have spent the last few years working to make solar roads a reality.
Scott and Julie Brusaw created the first prototype for Solar Roadways in 2010, funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration, and this year they’re testing a fully-functional solar parking lot.
So what exactly is a solar road? In theory, a solar road would work the same way as a solar panel in that it would collect the energy from sunlight and generate it as electricity.
There are several components of the solar road that make it even more functional than a regular solar panel. The solar highway will be able to keep roads lit up at night, heat them to melt ice and snow, and power homes and business along the way.
According to GOOD, the panels for the solar road are topped with a super-strong, translucent layer that provides traction, but lets sunlight through. The middle of the panel has solar electronics to gather energy, and can also light the road with LEDs at night, similar to the Smart Highway being tested this year in the Netherlands. It will also be able to warm the roads to melt ice and snow. At the bottom, the panels have a layer to distribute power to homes and businesses connected to the Solar Roadway.
If the panels replaced all paved surfaces in the United States, from roads to sidewalks to playgrounds, the developers have estimated that they could produce more than three times the amount of electricity currently used in the whole country—and almost enough to supply the entire world.
The technology to make solar roads a reality is still being developed but every step closer is good news for the planet.