Solar Paneled Streets Could Pave Road to Future

Imagine the energy to power nearby streetlights coming from the very sidewalk or street you're traveling on. If a company called Solar Roadways meets its goal, that could become a reality, with solar panels eventually covering all concrete and asphalt, generating enough energy to power city streets and more.

So far, Solar Roadways has installed 30 of its panels, covering 150 square feet in Sandpoint, Idaho, at the Jeff Jones Town Square, according to city officials. There's even a live webcam of the square so that you can see the solar panels and their colorful LED lights in action. (You should check it out now, though, as the webcam won't be streaming indefinitely, the city says.)

Credit: Solar Roadways

(Image credit: Solar Roadways)

Each glass panel weighs 70 pounds and measures 4.39 square feet, reports local newspaper, The Bonner County Daily Bee. And because the panels contain heating elements, snow and ice accumulated on the panels can be melted off, making them "virtually maintenance free," according to the city. It's unclear exactly how much energy generated by the panels will be used to heat them, however.

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Solar Roadways co-founder Scott Brusaw told the Bee that the company hopes to eventually replace all asphalt and concrete with the panels, likely a costly feat. So far, the company says it's been backed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, private donors and contributors on the Indiegogo crowdfunding site. The State of Idaho Department of Commerce and the Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency helped fund the Sandpoint project, Sandpoint officials say.

Solar Roadways' efforts to promote solar power come amid worries that fossil fuels are not only endangering public health, but will have long-term effects on the environment beyond depleting resources. Burning fossil fuels including gasoline is raising earth's temperature, which can cause persistent and dangerous weather conditions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A number of U.S. cities give homeowners tax credits for installing solar panels, and even car companies including Tesla have been working on adding solar panels as a way to power their cars. One of Solar Roadways' biggest challenges though, which sets it apart from other companies, is that its panels have to be strong enough to bear the weight of large vehicles. Solar Roadways says its panels have been through testing with the weight of a semi-truck, but we many not find out how much they can bear in the long run for decades.

Althea Chang is Associate Director of Content Development for Consumer Reports and was previously a Senior Writer for Tom's Guide, covering mobile devices, health and fitness gadgets and car tech.