Solar roadways of the future to be tested on Route 66

The iconic Route 66 in the United States is set to become a forerunner for the potential highways of the future.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) plans to become the first US public highway department to test out a new type of pavement created by a company called Solar Roadways. The new type of road surface not only replaces conventional concrete and asphalt, but also can generate electricity through built-in solar panels.

The historic Route 66 Welcome Center at Conway, Missouri, will be the home to the panels created by Solar Roadways. Walkable solar panels which will be placed on the sidewalks to prove they can stand up to foot traffic before potentially being utilized on the highway itself.

Solar Roadways turn dream into reality

The completed parking lot prototype for the Solar Roadways project with company founders Julie and Scott Brusaw - image courtesy of Wikicommons and Dan Walden
The completed parking lot prototype for the Solar Roadways project with company founders Julie and Scott Brusaw – image courtesy of Wikicommons and Dan Walden.

Solar Roadways is an Idaho-based company whose primary purpose is to generate clean renewable energy on roadways and any other surface that can be walked or driven upon.

Solar Roadway’s founders Scott and Julie Brusaw have raised nearly $3m through an online fundraising campaign in order to pursue their goal to replace traditional asphalt roads with glass based “solar panels that you can drive on” in a bid to turn roads into sources of renewable energy.

The Solar Roadways concept takes solar technology to a new level, with the idea being to collect the substantial solar energy which hits surfaces such as roads but is currently not being utilized. The concept would give roads or highways such as Route 66 a dual purpose of being not only modern transport infrastructure but also smart power grid as well.

Solar Roadways also aims to modernize the US highway system and create the first roadway system with a return on investment, resulting in two goals being accomplished; the creation of a modular, modern infrastructure while at the same time creating the renewable energy needed to effectively end the current dependence on fossil fuels.

The Solar Roadways website stated that using very conservative numbers, calculations indicate that if all driving and walking surfaces in the US were converted to Solar Roadway panels, they could produce over three times the electricity used in the US.

How the technology works

The Solar Roadways concept created by company founders Julie and Scott Brusaw - image courtesy of Solar Roadways.
The Solar Roadways concept created by company founders Julie and Scott Brusaw – image courtesy of Solar Roadways.

Each of the full-size hexagonal panels developed by Solar Roadways which will be used on Route 66 cover an area of about 4.39 square feet, and mare made of tempered glass which the husband and wife co-founders and entrepreneurs, Julie and Scott Brusaw, claim can stand up to even the heaviest truck traffic.

The Solar Roadways project follows other recent attempts throughout the world to cover roads and infrastructure with solar panels.

The French government recently announced plans to cover 100km of road with solar panels in the next five years, with the country’s National Institute of Solar Energy teaming up with a French road building company to develop solar panels that are less than a centimetre thick to lay over the top of roads.

Holland has also been experimenting with the idea of solar panels covering roads having built the world’s first solar bike path in 2014.

Is there a downside?

While implementing the technology sounds like a no-brainer, not everyone is on the Solar Roadways bandwagon. Dr Andrew Thomson, a solar researcher at the Australian National University, told Australian website News.com.au that implementing the technology on a mass scale had some critical issues.

According to Dr Thomson, the price of the roadway material will be significantly more than the cost of standard asphalt and likely much more than standard rooftop solar panels. In addition, if the roadway is shaded, even just partially, which is the case for many roads, the energy creation potential of the roadway would be greatly reduced. Furthermore there is a safety concern that the glass will wear smooth over time, unlike asphalt which wears down to simply

And Dr Thomson isn’t the only critic of the concept of solar roadways. Perhaps the most scathing to date is that of equities.com editor senior editor, Joel Anderson, who referred to the idea as “a costly, inefficient boondoggle”. He went on to write the the idea equated to “putting government funds into an inefficient and expensive form of solar power, despite readily available options that are clearly and obviously superior.”