America is about to get its first official solar highway. Route 66–arguably one of the most historic and iconic of America’s old, forgotten highways, is about to get a face-lift. A high-tech, green energy overhaul.
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Solar Roadways, an Idaho startup, is building the panels. Scott and Julie Brusaw developed the technology and is working with the Missouri Department of Transportation. Together they’ll begin installing the solar panels at a rest stop in Conway, Missouri.
The panels are hexagonal, and weigh about 70 pounds each. They’re made of tempered glass. The tempering process gives the glass the strength needed to withstand the weight of cars and trucks.
The surface is textured, too, so it won’t be as slick as glass typically is. The cells are supposed to have the same basic texture as asphalt. But here’s the best part; the panels have built in LEDs that will light up to show lines and signs. These panels can also heat up to melt snow and ice.
The panels have passed several tests, and look to offer an outstanding option for energy generation. While the company acknowledges that further testing is needed before the cells are ready for mainstream use, those working with the Missouri project are optimistic.
Tom Blair, assistant district engineer of MoDOT’s St. Louis area district, is heading up the “Road to Tomorrow” project. “It’s hard to predict what this will lead to,” Blair said. “We’re a few years away from a final product.”
“Solar roadways can hopefully create new revenue streams,” he said. “If [Solar Roadways’] version of the future is realistic, roadways can begin paying for themselves.”
“Technology already has changed how we think about different things in our lives, and it is going to disrupt everything that every one of us transportation leaders have experienced to date in our life… It’s happening fast, and it’s going to be disruptive,” Blair said.
So why aren’t we converting all of our roads to solar roads? The initial cost is the main reason. It will take a while before early adopters begin to see a return on their investments. Once the energy generation offsets the costs, more people will hop on the bandwagon.