Solar Roadways

Molly Wood Sep 27, 2010
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Solar Roadways

Molly Wood Sep 27, 2010
HTML EMBED:
COPY

There are three days left before voting ends for the GE Ecomagination Challenge. For this contest, GE is fishing for great new ideas about the next gen-power. And Scott Brusaw thinks he has one.

There are over 25,000 square miles of road to swap out (41,000 square miles if you count highways, parking lots, pavement and “impermeable surfaces”) in the U.S. It’s an area almost the size of Ohio, and Scott wants to convert a lot of that pavement into a solar panels.

He thinks a system that converted 25,000 square miles of pavement into panels could produce three times the electricity the nation needs. The parking lot around a typical Wal-Mart could generate 10 times more power than the store uses each year — even when it is full of cars.

So how would this work?

Scott says to just think of a black box in an airplane; that’s a structurally engineered case that protects sensitive electronics from the worst of airline disasters. He thought if he could build a structurally engineered case to protect a solar panel from an 18-wheeler, his idea could work. But there was one hitch.

That structurally engineered case would have to be made from glass. Plastics — even the toughest plastic — will discolor in the sun. But material research labs are doing amazing things with glass. There’s bomb resistant glass, glass as thin and pliable as paper. You can add textures so it’s not slippery when it’s wet.

How much would it cost?

The target price for a 12-foot by 12-foot panel is $10,000. Sounds steep, but Brusaw thinks each panel could produce enough electricity to pay for itself in just 22 years — that’s faster than most people pay off their mortgages. Still, replacing 25,000 square miles of pavement would cost more than $47 trillion. Then again, none of us would ever pay for gas again.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.