Originally published on Mosaic's Blog on July 11, 2014.

By Aven Satre-Meloy

Stories about solar usually don’t go viral like, say, videos of cute cats doing silly things or South Korean popstars’ strangely amusing dance moves, but one solar story in particular seems to have reached the upper echelon of internet virality.

As of this writing, the hit YouTube video “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways!” has been viewed over 17.1 million times, and this comes after an enormously successful Indiegogo campaign that just ended last week and raised $2.2 million for Scott and Julie Brusaw’s new solar technology, making it the most popular campaign ever in terms of backers (over 48,000) on Indiegogo.

Is the company and new technology really worth all the hype? Are there many barriers standing in the way of a solar roadway revolution? Are there lessons that the solar industry can learn from Solar Roadways’ viral success?

These are just a few of the questions swirling around in the media frenzy over Solar Roadways. The concept has clearly excited people who already take an interest in solar, but it has also done what many other solar products have been unable to in grabbing the attention of people who aren’t otherwise solar fanatics.

Let’s take a look at how the company has inspired millions of Americans to support their cause and see whether or not this solar pipe dream can become a reality.

So What’s All the Hype About Anyway?

While the idea of paving all the roads and highways (not to mention parking lots, driveways, bike paths, sidewalks, playgrounds, or any other asphalt or concrete surfaces) with solar panels will itself draw some headlines, one of the reasons Solar Roadways has garnered so much attention is that their product extends beyond just generating energy from the sun.

That’s right, the electricity generation and distribution aspects of solar covered roads are just the beginning. In claiming that solar roadways can pay for themselves through the generation of electricity, can produce three times more clean energy than our entire country uses, and can solve one of the most problematic aspects of solar–storage and transport, Solar Roadways is exciting to say the least.

But the myriad uses of this technology are what have really gotten people to share the story (and open their wallets).

Imagine snow and ice-free roads and a “Cable Corridor” to store high-speed fiber-optic internet cables providing internet access everywhere there’s a roadway. Imagine a way to treat stormwater runoff, preventing pollution and delivering water to the places that need it most.

EV owners will relish their ability to charge their car in any parking lot or even while they’re driving; highway authorities will applaud the durability and safety of panels that last a minimum of twenty years and can alert drivers to debris or animals on the road with plenty of time to stop.

The technology certainly has given people plenty to talk about, and whether it’s discussing how solar roadways could make our energy system more secure or talking about its potential to simultaneously solve our economic and energy crises, it’s understandable why people are excited.

This All Sounds a Little Too Good to be True

Any new technology purporting to solve almost every single energy problem we have will undoubtedly give rise to noisy skeptics, and Solar Roadways is no exception.

On paper, Solar Roadways looks like one of the greatest inventions ever, but there are many who think this is just one more idea that will never make the jump from drawing-board to deployment.

The criticism most often leveled at Solar Roadways is the pretty penny it’s going to cost to make this concept a reality. Though no one is claiming to have exact figures, Aaron Saenz roughly estimates a cost of $56 trillion to take all our roadways solar. Others have come up with similar estimates, but Scott Brusaw says on his website that this is “absolutely not true.”

According to Brusaw, no journalists should be listened to on the subject of cost yet since not even his company has the data necessary to make an estimate. He remains optimistic that if they can keep their 12’ x 12’ prototype under $10K, then they could break even with the cost of asphalt.

 

Image credit: Solar Roadways

 

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