The Department of Transportation is funding a pilot project that will make roads out of LED lights and solar panels, as recently seen on grist.org. Husband and wife Scott and Julie Brusaw teamed up to make Solar Roadways (TM), a company that has patented an innovative way to substitute asphalt for solar panels. The trademarked Solar Road Panels (TM) collect and store solar energy and are a one-stop-shop for electricity generation, storage and distribution. Their intelligent design even allows the panels to self-heat in cold northern climates to eliminate snow and ice accumulation. The LED lighting system also enables real-time communication with drivers, more effectively alerting them of construction detours, road conditions and lane changes.
What are the potential environmental benefits of this system? Solar Roadways claims that their system will cut greenhouse gas emissions by half. David Roberts of grist.org estimates the following:
“At the limit, if all paved surfaces in the U.S. were replaced with 15% efficiency solar panels, the resulting distributed power network could provide three times the electricity the nation consumes, with zero carbon emissions and no additional power grid infrastructure.”
Like many novel green technology substitutes, the question we need to be asking is what the true costs and benefits are in trying to implement such a solution on a large scale. Would the energy and material inputs needed to produce the panels really end up in the greenhouse gas savings Solar Roadways claim, from cradle to grave? Could we actually replace conventional fossil fuel-based methods of power generation and use a roadway system to generate clean, renewable energy? Is this even possible, with increasing energy demand? And, at the end of the day, are clean, solar-powered roadways only as good as the gas-guzzling cars we drive on top of them?