Solar Roadways and Parking Lots by Isaiah Mouw, CAPP

I recently stumbled across this video about Solar Roadways. The concept involves turning roadways and parking lots into solar panel road surfaces that generate electricity. Inventor and co-founder of the Solar Roadways project Scott Brushaw explains, “There are 25,000 square miles of road surfaces, parking lots and driveways in the lower 48 states. If we covered that with solar panels with just 15 percent efficiency, we’d produce three times more electricity than this country uses on an annual basis and that’s almost enough to power the entire world. Roads are collecting heat anyway; this thing collects the power and stores it.”

One concern was creating glass strong enough to support the heaviest loads under the most extreme conditions, but they believe they’ve created a weatherproof, high-strength surface that’s up to the task. But the biggest concern is, of course, cost. One of these solar panels (12’x12’) can cost up to $7,000, and the plans to cover the roadways would call for billions of these panels. Do the math.

The Solar Roadway project recently received a $750,000.00 grant to build the first solar surface parking lot. With an estimated industry average cost of $4,000.00 per space to construct a parking lot, this $750,000 is not as large as it first seems. These solar panels consist of embedded LEDs that can be used to create crosswalks or traffic warnings. They could also be used to mark parking spaces. Imagine being able to change your layout design any day of the week, depending on your demand. These panels will also have the capability to charge electric vehicles while parked. The system will warm itself during the winter to melt away any snow or ice. The Solar Roadways team should have the parking lot completed in November and will be presenting the results shortly after.

This is not just a sustainability issue. Yes, it is very sustainable as the renewable energy from the proposed Solar Roadways project would literally cut greenhouse gases in half. But it may also make economic sense sometime in the future. The cost of petroleum-based asphalt continues to rise, while solar power has been falling at a rate of 7 percent per year for the last 30 years.  As technology improves each year, the cost of solar technologies should continue to drop. Solar panel surface parking lots could pay for themselves quickly as they generate renewable energy in the future.

To me, solar road surfaces is an important aspect  of the future of parking. Not this decade or even the next, but down the road, I think we will all be parking on solar surfaces.