Interstate with solar roadways.

Artist’s rendition of a interstate with solar roadways.
IMG: via Sam Cornett

Solar Roadways may be something you have already heard floating around. The idea has gained a lot of supporters in the past year, as it has come closer to being reality. But it also has some detractors. Solar Roadways has 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. Phase II, to build a prototype parking lot, is wrapping up and now funds are being raised for production. On August 21, 2013, a group of peers selected Solar Roadways as a Finalist in the World Technology Award For Energy, presented in association with TIME, Fortune, CNN, and Science.

The Solar Roadways hexagonal panels’ glass surface has been tested for traction, load testing, and impact resistance testing in civil engineering laboratories around the country, and exceeded all requirements. A section has even been created in the panel/ grids Cable Corridors for storing, treating, and moving storm water, which could help with storm water pollution problems. These hexagonal solar panels have LED lights in them which would be used to create all road lines and other roadway markings—basically these panels would create a Smart Grid. Those who aren’t so convinced by the project argue that these lane markings would be hard to see during the daytime and the LED lights would get in the way of the solar panel and its ability to collect solar energy.

Hypothetically, the panels would also be able to melt snow and ice, and they are said to be easy to replace if damaged—therefore eliminating the need to completely redo whole sections of road if something is damaged. However, some are wondering how much energy these panels would be using to perform such tasks in relation to how much energy they would be creating. Solar Roadways’ aim is to someday replace all paved ways (roads, sidewalks, bike paths, parking lots, etc.), with its creators claiming that it has the potential to produce three times the amount of energy the U.S. currently uses.

The implementation of Solar Roadways on a grand scale could create thousands of jobs in the U.S. and around the world, helping with the current economic crisis. But the two be questions being asked now are these: how much energy these panels would create and, more importantly, would they be cost effective? At about $7000 a panel, there is a lot to consider when determining if the environmental and economic benefits Solar Roadways offer would be worth it in the long run.