Earlier this month, we asked whether solar roads could generate enough energy to serve some of the nation's power needs.
With tens of thousands of miles of solar-power generating roads, parking lots, sidewalks and other open spaces--without needing to clear space in untouched, natural areas--it seems like an ideal, if expensive solution.
It's one that's caught the public's imagination though. The company proposing the idea, Solar Roadways, has smashed its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign target of $1 million by almost 50 percent, with four days left to run.
Now it's important to note: Widespread public support in no ways guarantees success.
But the couple behind Solar Roadways, Scott and Julie Brusaw, have clearly struck a chord with their backers.
They've also developed a product that, at the prototype stage, answers a whole lot of difficult questions that startup companies aren't always prepared to answer.
Despite each panel being made of glass, for example, the Solar Roadways tiles meet traction, load testing and impact resistance testing without an issue. A thin heating element inside each tile keeps it free of snow – so they'd not be rendered useless in poor weather.
Each tile also contains a mesh of LED units, allowing interconnected tiles to relay information, denote road borders and other functions normally served by painted lines. And of course, they generate energy as they absorb sunlight – useful wherever they're laid.
Solar Roadways has also released a rather excellent video demonstrating its product. No, really--it's worlds away from the usual stuffy crowdfunding videos and vocalizes benefits we'd not even thought of. Configurable parking lots or recreational areas, anyone?
And, as the video points out, all those LEDs are going to make it "look like freakin' TRON out there... but real". If that doesn't convince you, nothing will.
Again, proper solar roads are a long way off. Replacing every single mile of U.S. highway with solar panels could be a hundred years away, and there are still many hurdles to overcome.
But start small, with parking lots and playgrounds, and things really could begin to change. At the very least, your driveway, the mall parking lot and your children's schoolyard could start to pay for itself several times over.