Try following along with Scott Brusaw's series of convoluted calculations — premised, of course, on his own conservative assumptions — and you should come away agreeing with his basic argument: that a series of roads built out of solar panels could supply all of our country's energy needs several times over. At least that's what Brusaw, the founder of Solar Roadways — a company based out of his house in Idaho — is hoping to make policymakers and industry leaders see.
He has high hopes for his series of electric roads — in fact, he believes that they may very well hold the key to solving global warming. Going off of an estimate made by Caltech solar energy expert Nate Lewis — who estimated that covering 1.7% of the U.S.' land surface with 10%-efficient solar energy converters would supply our current energy demand — Brusaw theorized that paving the country's interstate highway system (which incidentally covers close to 1.7% of the nation's land surface) with glass panels that could collect and distribute solar energy would accomplish that goal. The solar cells would create enough energy to light the road at night, heat it in the winter and power buildings — each mile could supply as many as 500 homes, according to Brusaw. His system of roadways — which would consist of three superimposed layers — would contain a revised version of the nation's electric grid (complete with a distributed network of independent power sources) and a network of fiber optic cables for television and communication. In addition, a "smart" system would be able to reduce gridlock by reconfiguring travel lanes, warn drivers of impending construction, accidents or adverse weather events and even protect wildlife by keeping them off the road.
He estimates that the cost of producing a single 12' X 12' Solar Roadway panel could reach about $5,000 — and that about 4.84 billion would be required to make his scheme work. As promising as his grand plan may sound, he's still in the very early phases of his project and will need to overcome many more challenges — not the least of which is developing the enabling technologies for the roadways — before he can even come close to making it all happen. Still, it certainly sounds like a worthy endeavor that could, time and technology permitting, help make a large dent in global warming.