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Can Solar Roads Help Sell Electric Vehicles?

With the push to “go green” there’s been a lot of talk about hybrid and electric vehicles—or just cars that get better gas mileage in general. We’re all up to date—more or less—on that trend, but have you heard about the push for solar-power roads? If you’re selling a hybrid vehicle like the 2015 Prius Plug-in to a future-savvy shopper, the possibility of solar-power roads popping up down the line might just be the icing on the cake. The Prius Plug-in is a hot item for those looking to go green. When its battery is fully charged the Plug-in gets 95 mpg, and after the battery is depleted it gets 51/49 mpg city/highway (plugincars.com). Imagine never having to run it at 50 mpg because there’s an outlet on the road. No need to wait for the next gas station, just pull over at the next outlet that gets its juice directly from solar panels.

But does anyone really think roads with solar panels in them are going to be viable? In the Netherlands a design consortium already constructed a bike path made from solar panels. It’s only 230 feet long and the price tag for design and construction was a cool $3.7 million (newsweek.com). Here in the states, Scott and Julie Brusaw of Sandpoint, Idaho have been working on their Solar Roadways project. In 2009 they received a contract from the Federal Highway Administration. They developed a prototype parking lot that uses hexagonal solar panel cells. The solar road would have LED lighting and could also house power and data cables. It would be heated slightly above freezing to deter the accumulation of snow and ice. Perks include no dead zones for cell phones, a warning system for drivers, and an “electric vehicle infrastructure” (according to the Solar Roadways website).

This year the Solar Roadways project raised $2.2 million through IndieGoGo. It’s got some steam building. There is still a lot more work to do to make solar roads happen, but let’s just put it this way: the project is definitely not dead in the water. We can use the type of optimism solar roads are generating to generate even more optimism for the future of EV’s. So, while your typical car-buyer might be thinking in practical terms, even the most practical among us can dream of a future where electric vehicles run free.                

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