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GE’s First Challenge Award to Solar Roads… Really?

When GE (s GE) announced in July that it would be launching a $200 million awards program with its VC partners to invest in smart grid technologies, I was pretty eager to see what sort of innovations would emerge. On Thursday, GE announced it will hand out the first $50,000 award to a project to build Solar Roadways (which is exactly what is sounds like) created by inventor Scott Brusaw. The idea was determined to be the winner though popular vote on GE’s website.

Come on guys, really? While the idea to create roadways out of glass-covered solar panels is a fun one, I was expecting a lot more useful real-world smart grid innovations from this contest. As Brusaw told Tech Crunch in a profile of Solar Roadways in August, the project is only in the prototyping phase, but is expected to cost $10,000 per 12 foot by 12 foot panel, so for the 440 panels needed to build a mile of a single-lane road, it would cost $4.4 million per mile.

Keep in mind those are estimates from the inventor, so are probably conservative. If we don’t have the proper financing in place to get very many solar panels built on the world’s rooftops, how will a Solar Roadway project get funding at those costs? This is assuming that Brusaw is able to work out the best and most cost-effective type of glass to cover the panels. I’m not even going to go into who would pay for these roads.

The Department of Transportation gave the team a $100,000 grant last year to start working on prototypes. On Brusaw’s website, he says Solar Roadways completed its first prototype 12 foot by 12 foot road panel in February, and has been working on adding the glass on top of it.

For $50,000, GE’s funding will enable Solar Roadways to build a 5-panel strip of road, 60 feet long. With the same amount of money, a software company could work on smart algorithms for applications for the smart grid, and get a lot more bang for the buck.

I’m hoping the remaining GE Challenge awards that will mostly come from the judges (not website voting) will be a lot more realistic and useful. But watch the fun video below anyway to see how Solar Roadways work.

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4 Responses to “GE’s First Challenge Award to Solar Roads… Really?”

    • this solar road sections will also have heating capabilities that will make snow plows completely unnecessary, it seems to me that the wide list of problems solved by this highway is not being mentioned here! after this weeks snow storm many city’s were paralyzed, lives were lost. Imagine the roads melting the snow and the ice away automatically!, once completed this grid could “CONSERVATIVELY” produce 3 times the electricity consumed in the US! cut the need for harmful coal and asphalt production and soooooo many other advantages please inform yourself more!

  1. It is obvious that you are mot well informed and are spinning this out of context. The Solar Roadway is the BEST idea to get America off of fuels for energy.

    A “smart grid” is not a smart idea at all when you consider the cost of implementation and the very little impact it will have in reducing energy costs. All it will do is relinquish control to the utility to reduce your consumption. It will be as if you have someone follow you around the house turning off light and appliances that “they” feel is unnecessary or wasteful. Is that how you really feel?

    Are we not capable of running our own house efficiently? Do we really need or want the power company to determine how much electric we can use?

    The Solar Roadways initial costs may seem high but once the technology begins to be mass produced, the price will drop, and it will be even more cost competitive with asphalt. And with its many advantages over asphalt, it will be the best choice for roads of the world.

  2. Gramiam44

    To hear you tell it, putting a man on the moon was an exercise in wasteful futility, too. Solar Roadways are going to start out as replacements for bad sections of highway, not as complete systems. Sure, they are expensive, but unlike standard highways, they will pay for themselves from the solar energy they generate. Show me a highway currently that does that.

    I am merely an interested grandmother, but it sure makes sense to me.