The developed world is covered in paving. In the US, for example, there are 2.65 million miles of paved roads, which translates, by one estimate, to a total area roughly the size of Ohio.
What if those roads could also generate energy?
That’s the idea behind SolaRoad, a Dutch company that on Wednesday opened the first functional road that doubles as a solar panel.
The new road starts small, covering just a 100-meter (330-foot) stretch of bike path in the province of Krommenie in the Netherlands. The company is still working on tweaking and improving the technology, and this road is more of a trial run than the start of a full-fledged deployment. Still, the company expects the energy generated from the solar panels to be enough to power three households.
The idea that dirty concrete could be transformed into a clean power generation is an appealing one. It’s unclear if it’s also economically feasible. Solar Roadways, an Idaho-based company working on roads built from power-generating tiles, estimates that the roads will be 50% to 300% more expensive to build than regular roads. They will also have to bear heavy loads and endure extreme weather, which could require frequent and expensive repairs.
Still, the potential upside to the technology has made some funders eager to hand over their money. SolaRoad has raised €3.5 million from various investors, while Smart Roadways has received several grants from the US Highway Administration, and also raised $2.2 million earlier this year on the crowdfunding site Indigogo.