There is approximately more than 5.7 million miles of paved highway in the United States and in a bid to find new sustainable ways of producing renewable energy, one small Idaho company believes they've found the solution: solar roadways.
According to their website, www.solarroadways.com, the idea revolves around "a series of structurally-engineered solar panels that are driven upon. The idea is to replace all current petroleum-based asphalt roads, parking lots, and driveways with Solar Road PanelsTM that collect and store solar energy to be used by our homes and businesses. This renewable energy replaces the need for the current fossil fuels used for the generation of electricity. This, in turn, cuts greenhouse gases literally in half."
In America, the idea has received a lot of media attention after The Department of Transport awarded the company $100,000 to construct a prototype 12' by 12' panel.
The panels, as expected, are infinitely more complex than a few layers of tarmac and asphalt. According to AutoBlogGreen, the panels consist of three layers; the base contains power and data lines and is overlaid by the electronics strata that contains solar cells, LEDs and super-capacitors which would produce and store electricity.
The LEDs, meanwhile, would "paint" the surface with light and hold the microprocessors and communications device that would make highways "intelligent", flashing messages such as 'Slow' and 'Traffic Delays' to warn drivers. The top layer is made of glass that should supply the same traction as asphalt, and is strong enough to handle whatever traffic can dish out whilst protecting the electronic goodies below.
It can also sense animals on the roadway, heat themselves when they are covered in snow and ice AND act as a power source for electric cars, which would be able to be plugged into the road at points along its length.
Scott Brusaw, the man behind Solar Roadways, believes if every street, driveway and parking lot was replaced with his invention, it would supply three times as much electricity as was used in the US in 2003. Not just that, but the project to cover America with 12′x12′ solar panels would create "2.5 million jobs in assembly alone," taking the country out of its employment lull, making Solar Roadways into the largest employer in the country and America's economic saviour and making Brusaw one of the richest men in the world!
So why hasn't the President ordered every man, woman and child to get a pick axe and begin stripping the asphalt off the highways to get this carbon-cutting, energy-producing, super-highway underway?
Well, firstly, solar panels are notoriously fragile. Can they really take 40-ton vehicles going 80 miles an hour over them day and night for decades? Also, what happens at night? Will they store enough energy to power themselves during the winter months?
Oh, and then there's the price tag - US $35 trillion. Yes, TRILLION. With a 'T'. Each panel is 'currently' predicted to cost around $7,000. Obama's current health-care reform is only meant to cost a measly $1 trillion.
So there we go, it's a fantastic idea and one that could change America's energy and transport infrastructure for ever, but currently it's a pipe dream. An ambitious and undeniably genius pipe dream.
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