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Could solar panel roadways save energy and prevent accidents?

June 5, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

Plan to cover the nation’s roads raises $1 million, and would work with Google self-driving cars

As an accident attorney, I’m always thinking about the future of driving safety and automobiles. I write about driverless cars that will soon be a day-to-day reality, Google Glass technology behind the wheel and even glow-in-the-dark roads designed to help drivers see more clearly.

But the latest  idea sounds more like a future found in science fiction movies.  The idea is to replace the nation’s asphalt roads with solar panels to generate more than three times the electricity the U.S. currently uses.

Idaho couple Julie and Scott Brusaw of Solar Roadways have already raised more than $1 million on Indiegogo to pursue their ambitious goal.

Scott has an electrical engineering background and the project has received two rounds of funding from the Federal Highway Administration. They’ve built a prototype parking lot made of solar panels, microprocessors and LEDs encased in a textured glass that they say can withstand the weight of a 250,000-pound truck, according to a recent story on theverge.com, “Crazy plan to cover the nation’s roads with solar panels raises $1 million.”

The solar paneled roads would also filter storm water, replace above-ground power cables, prevent icy roads by melting snow, and light up to warn drivers if an animal wanders onto the road.

Unfortunately the list of obstacles – mainly price – seems  prohibitive. According to published reports, there’s roughly 29,000 square miles of road surface to cover and about 5.6 billion panels are needed to cover that area. That would equate to a price tag of $56 trillion.

Ouch. But one day the cost of solar panels will plummet. And while critics say it’s hard to imagine a municipality ripping up asphalt and installing a largely unproven technology when it could achieve the same level of power generation by planting rooftop panels and solar arrays along the road, if costs continue to drop for solar panels, it will dramatically change the calculus of what is and is not practical.

Here’s their project on the crowd funding website.

Another interesting facet of the idea covered on theverge.com: Solar roadways can help driverless vehicles, such as the Google Car:

“Having our panels’ microprocessors mounted permanently in a fixed longitude and latitude offers a very special method of knowing exactly where a driverless vehicle is. This replaces the need to depend on satellite communications (GPS for instance) to know where you are. It is much more accurate. They could also link the location of each of our panels into their Google Map application and use them to plot routes.”

What do you think of this budding technology as a way to improve roads and energy?

Let us know on our Michigan Auto Law Facebook page.

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