What do you need to generate a lot of electricity from photoelectric solar cells? A lot of surface area. What is a lot of the surface of the United States covered in? Roads. Put those two ideas together, and the idea of turning the nation's highways into solar farms doesn't sound too odd, does it? Well, maybe it doesn't until you consider that you're talking about taking electronics – electronics that are typically somewhat delicate and rather expensive – and purposely putting them on the ground where heavy vehicles will zoom over them at high speed. Ouch.
Replacing crushed stone and tar with LEDs and capacitors seems so unlikely that when Solar Roadways was awarded $100,000 to construct a small, 12' by 12' prototype system in 2009, infrastructure blog The Infrastructionist gave the effort its "Dubious Green Scheme" award and labeled Solar Roadways not just "harebrained" but "totally batshit crazy."
As it turns out, that initial panel impressed the Department of Transportation enough that Solar Roadways has now been given $750,000 to take it to the next step: a solar parking lot. Constructed out of multiple 12' x 12' panels, the smart parking lot will do more than the asphalt alternative. It will warm itself in cold weather to melt away snow and ice. A layer of embedded LEDs can be used create traffic warnings or crosswalks. Electricity leftover from those tasks could be used to charge electric vehicles or routed into the power grid. The electrical components will be embedded between layers of hardened, textured glass – this may sound fragile, but is already tough enough that some areas use the material for sidewalks.
Parking lots, driveways, and eventually highways are all targets for the panels. If the nation's system of interstate highways was surfaced with Solar Roadways panels, the results would be more than three times the amount of electricity currently consumed. Of course, at $100,000 per 12', costs would need to come down significant bit before that could happen.
And if you're wondering who gets this first super-smart parking lot the answer is... Scott Brusaw, the CEO of Solar Roadways. Now who's crazy?