If you live in the U.S., chances are pretty good that you've been affected by the winter storm currently swirling its way across the country. It's the latest in a string of snow and ice blasts that have caused travel delays, highway closures, traffic accidents, and, unfortunately, more than a few fatalities. The weather has also broken the banks of many municipalities. After all, the roads can't exactly clean themselves -- well, not yet.

That may eventually change, however, if the folks at Solar Roadways have their say. The last time we heard from that group of scientists and engineers, they'd received a contract to develop a prototype of -- yes -- a solar roadway. The process seemed straightforward enough: the company embedded LEDs in high-density glass pavement, as well as tiny solar elements to power them. The result? A road that never needs painting, a road that creates its own dividing lines and even signage. In fact the road generates extra electricity, which can be used to power neighboring homes, businesses, streetlights, and so on.

But the folks at Solar Roadways also included heating elements in their prototype, much like you'd find on the back window of your car -- elements capable of melting snow and ice. That should come in handy  in the event of major storms like the one we're currently experiencing -- except for one small problem: the cost.

At the moment, Solar Roadways' 12' x 12' panel runs just under $7,000, and the U.S. would need around 10 billion of them to provide ample coverage to chillier areas of the country. Even in good economic times, that would be a little much.

But as we've learned over the years: never say never. The technology which seems prohibitively expensive today may get exponentially cheaper tomorrow. (Remember how pricey 1980s bag phones were? Now, consider today's smaller, fancier, nearly disposable mobiles.) The ideas behind the project may be intriguing enough to keep some scientists, engineers, and other tinkerers poking at them until they become practical.

Until that day comes, though, we'll have to enjoy the prototype -- and keep buying snow shovels.


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