Could our roads, driveways, and parking lots be the solar panels of the future? One company thinks so and it has the financial support of the Federal Highway Administration to try to find out.

Solar Roadways is developing solar panels unlike any we currently see on rooftops and by the sides of the road. Their prototype solar panels are strong enough to support the weight of automotive traffic and could potentially replace all asphalt surfaces in the U.S. and generate some 13,961 billion Kilowatt-hours of electricity (worst-case scenario, dead of winter). That’s more than three times the amount of electricity currently used in the U.S. each year.

In 2009 the company was given a contract by the Federal Highway Administration to build its Solar Road Panel prototype. These panels are made of structurally-engineered panels consisting of three layers: road surface, electronics, and base plate. The road surface is translucent enough for sunlight to pass through to the solar cells underneath but tough enough to withstand traffic. The electronics layer contains the solar collectors and all the electronics needed for sensing loads, controlling heating elements for deicing and melting snow and running the LED lighting system which provides road lines. Lastly, the base plate layer distributes the generated power to the grid or local utility stations.

Because of the success of the Solar Road Panel prototype, in 2011 the FHA awarded the company a 2-year Phase II $750,000 contract to develop a prototype solar parking lot that will be tested under all weather and sunlight conditions. Future tests may include the concept of induction charging EVs as they drive down the road and utilizing the connectedness of the panels on the road to create a smart traffic management system. The road to the future does seem to be paved with something other than asphalt… and that’s a good thing.

Check out this 3 minute short film about the Solar Roadways project:

Solar Roadways | Michéle Ohayon from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Image Credit: Solar Roadways