Will We Ever See Solar Roadways?

Posted: Feb 5 2019, 9:12am CST | by , in Technology News

Will We Ever See Solar Roadways?
Image: DI

Solar Roadways got a lot of hype when they were announced, but will we ever see them put into practice or are they just not practical?

There are millions of miles of roadway stretching across Earth's surface. The United States is home to 4.08 million miles of road. China boasts 2.63 million miles, and India has 2.54 million miles stretching across its landscape. Some enterprising civil engineers broached the idea of using these stretches of highway to generate electrical power by replacing the asphalt surface with solar panels. Will we ever see solar roadways, or was this concept too good to be true?

What Are Solar Roadways?

Instead of leaving millions of miles of asphalt to soak up the sun, some engineers came up with the idea of replacing asphalt road surfaces with hardened photovoltaic solar panels. These panels could, in theory, stand up to the punishment of having thousands of vehicles driving over them daily, while producing what is effectively free energy. While it sounds like a great idea, is it realistic?

Consecutive Failures

Small solar roadway projects have been popping up around the globe. In 2014, a short stretch of solar-powered road opened in Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy. The one-kilometer stretch cost more than €5 million and had a tiny job — researchers wanted to see if the road could power the village's streetlamps. While it did generate enough power for this task, the sheer cost meant the project was a failure.

During the same year, engineers in Krommenie in the Netherlands opened a solar bike path. It was a relative success, able to produce more than 3,000 kilowatt-hours — enough to power a small home for a year — with just 70 meters of solar panels. Unfortunately, the cost of the solar roadway meant this project was also somewhat of a failure — the money spent on building it could have bought more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours of power. It did prove the concept, though — solar roads could power cities if the cost of the technology drops enough to make it economically feasible.

The U.S.' solar road project — the Route 66 project — stalled before it had a chance to get implemented, and there's no telling whether engineers will be able to breathe new life into the project.

Will We Ever See Solar Roads?

Will solar roads ever make an appearance in a neighborhood near you? The answer to that is mostly up in the air and will depend heavily on the cost of solar panel technology. As the equipment becomes more affordable, it may become more common. However, as long as it costs more than $5.7 million to lay less than a mile of roadway, governments aren't going to invest in this infrastructure upgrade.

In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to improve our current infrastructure. New and evolving technology — like geotextile fabrics that can provide extra strength and durability to newly laid roads by supporting the asphalt and keeping it separate from the soil — can keep highways looking brand-new for years to come.

It might be a while before we see solar roadways in our neighborhoods, but that doesn't mean the concept isn't sound. Right now, the high cost of solar technology is standing in the way of this highway upgrade. Once that changes, we may see more solar roads than asphalt ones!

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/56" rel="author">Scott Huntington</a>
Scott Huntington is a writer and journalist from Harrisburg PA who covered movies, tech, cars, and more. Check out his blog Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.




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