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Roads Could One Day Be Paved With Solar Panels

Scott and Julie Brusaw have launched an initiative that they call solar roadways, a plan to refurbish American roads using bumpy, hexagonal solar panels that light up and respond to what crosses them.
Scott and Julie Brusaw have launched an initiative that they call solar roadways, a plan to refurbish American roads using bumpy, hexagonal solar panels that light up and respond to what crosses them. Sam Cornett

Imagine a road that melts snow, has movable markings, and its own renewable energy source. Then add one more component—solar panels, the unsightly metallic paneling lofted on rooftops and space stations alike.

An ambitious couple from rural Idaho want to put solar panels on roads.

Scott and Julie Brusaw have launched an initiative that they call solar roadways, a plan to refurbish American roads using bumpy, hexagonal solar panels that light up and respond to what crosses them.

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Traffic controllers can alter traffic patterns by moving the lit-up lane markings, decreasing traffic jams and by extension greenhouse gas emissions. Those lights are also designed to improve late-night visibility on dark roads.

Panels are also equipped with heat sensors that can melt snow and ice, avoiding roadway collisions and potentially cutting the millions in taxes that the U.S. spends on snow removal and lost productivity every year.

The roads also include pressure sensors, designed to light up when heavy debris falls on them or animals cross them.

Some panels include buried cables that could one day replace telephone poles.

The panels are attractive proposals, the stuff of science fiction (the promotional video includes several references to “Tron”—yikes), and solar roadways have already generated their fair share of buzz.

Its YouTube video—catchily (although rather aggressively) named solar FREAKIN’ roadways—went viral last month and has now reached over 17 million views.

“Not just lifeless, boring solar panels,” the video says when describing the product. “Smart microprocessing, interlocking, hexagonal solar units. No more useless asphalt and concrete just sitting there baking in the sun.”

The popularity of the video may have helped the Brusaws generate funds for the project, which, although still in its nascent stages, would be fiendishly expensive to carry out on a large scale.

Solar roadways has generated $2 million in donations from all 50 states and other areas of the world. The sum exceeds any previous amount raised by the crowdsourcing website Indiegogo, according to The Washington Post.

Despite the enthusiastic donations, widespread solar roadway installations may be somewhat unattainable for the moment. The cost of installing them nationwide would be astronomical. According to Vox, it might total $56 trillion—around 20 times the annual federal budget.

As solar technology advances, however, costs may fall, making the prospect of solar roadways reachable.

Massachusetts, for example, which now ranks second on lists of the most solar conscious states, has offered generous subsidies for companies who cut costs to install solar panels. Even former mayor Tom Menino has outfitted his abode with the green technology, a move that was reported to cost only $500 for $8,000 in savings over the next 20 years.

For now, small projects are already underway. The small town of Sandpoint, Idaho, intends to install the roadways on a parking lot and sidewalks. And the Brusaws have already created a solar parking lot outside their work studio perched in the rolling hills of Idaho.

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