Using roads to produce electricity sounds like science fiction. But in a small US town near the Canadian border, it's becoming a reality.
A team in Idaho led by electrical engineer Scott Brusaw has designed a road that houses solar cells that can generate electricity - and pay for itself over time.
"Years ago, when everyone was talking about global warming, we looked at the idea of replacing asphalt roads with solar panels you could drive on," he said.
"If we added a layer of LEDs, we could also 'paint' the road lines electronically, have night-time lighting and specific safety warnings. The ideas rolled in and the Solar Roadway project was born."
In 2009, the team received government funding to build the first prototype and will launch a carpark built of solar panels next month.
Each panel consists of three layers, with the road surface made of a translucent, high-strength material that is rough enough for good traction but still allows sunlight to pass through to the solar cells.
Mr Brusaw has not determined the cost of the panels once they are made on a mass scale, but he is convinced they could pay for themselves 10 years after installation.
"Our long-range goal is to cover all concrete and asphalt surfaces that are exposed to the sun with solar road panels," he said. "This will lead to the end of our dependency on fossil fuels. We're aware this won't happen overnight.
"We'll need to start off small - driveways, bike paths, patios, sidewalks, parking lots, playgrounds. This is where we'll learn our lessons and perfect our system."
With the cells operating at their best in temperatures under 25C, they may not act as efficiently in WA, but Mr Brusaw is working on a solution. "If we can capture and store water run-off from roads, this could be used as a coolant," he said.'We're aware that this won't happen overnight.'"Road designer *Scott Brusaw *
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