Recharging Roadway Startup Wins GE Prize

After months of anticipation, GE has announced the first results of its $200 million Ecomagination Challenge, an invitation for inventors to develop the next-generation of power grid technologies. The first winner is Solar Roadways. Their concept: a roadway that recharges electric cars as they drive. The Idaho-based startup, which will get $50,000 from GE, racked up the highest number of Challenge community votes.

This past March, the company finished the first prototype of its Solar Road Panel, a weatherproof, translucent, self-heating, energy-generating device embedded with LEDs and solar cells. The device can theoretically charge electric vehicles as they drive over the panel via induction–the same way an electric toothbrush charges.

It’s a clever idea, to be sure, but is it really feasible given the number of roads that would need to be replaced? According to GigaOm, it could cost as much as $4.4 million per mile for the 440 Solar Road Panels needed to build a single-lane road. It’s hard enough to get funding for alternative energy projects that don’t require the revamping of our entire transportation system–and GE’s $50,000 can’t possibly help Solar Roadways make its panels cheap enough for mass installation.

Still, it’s heartening to see innovative projects get attention from major corporations. Here’s hoping the next Ecomagination Challenge winners are a little more realistic.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.AS