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Clean Power

Published on June 28th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley


Solar Roadways Coming To Route 66 In Missouri

June 28th, 2016 by  

Originally published on Gas2.

A section of Route 66 in Missouri will soon be covered in solar panels from Idaho startup, Solar Roadways. “It gets Missouri and MDOT prepared for 21st century innovations,” says Tom Blair, who heads the Road to Tomorrow initiative. “We expect them to be in place, I’m hoping, by the end of this year, maybe before snow flies.”

Combining road improvement with solar energy generation could be not only a boon for the Missouri but a model for other states as well. Blair says, “If [Solar Roadway’s] version of the future is realistic, if we can make that happen, then roadways can begin paying for themselves.”

Solar Roadways describes their tempered-glass roads as “a modular system of specially engineered solar panels that can be walked and driven upon. Our panels contain LED lights to create lines and signage without paint [and] contain heating elements to prevent snow and ice accumulation.”

The panels also contain microprocessors that make it possible for the panels communicate with each other and with a central control center. They can also communicate with the vehicles driving on them. Because the panels are modular, roads could easily be repaired without major disruptions of traffic.

Solar Roadways says it has already completed two contracts in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation. “Our goal is to modernize the infrastructure with modular, intelligent panels, while producing clean renewable energy for homes and businesses,” the company says on its website. “We’ll be able to charge electric vehicles with clean energy from the sun, first on our solar parking lots and when we have enough highway infrastructure, while driving.”

Solar Roadways is not the only company working on roads that are also solar panels. France is planning to pave 600 miles of roads with solar panels manufactured by Colas, which bills itself as the “World leader in the construction and maintenance of transport infrastructure.”

The Colas panels took 5 years to develop and consist of 7 millimeter thick strips glued to the road surface. The strips use a thin film of polycrystalline silicon to make electricity from sunlight. Colas says they have been tested extensively and can withstand the weight of a 6 axle truck. They are also said to be skid resistant.

Solar roads seem like a great idea. But real world engineering problems may get in the way. In winter, water can collect between the panels and freeze, damaging the connections between them. Traffic may scuff they so badly their ability to make electricity is greatly reduced. Frost heaves and other natural phenomena may cause them to break.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that deserves to be explored. Eliminating the need to plow roads in winter could certainly save cities and states huge amounts of money, more than offsetting the cost of  solar roads. Is this an idea whose time has come? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.

Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

  • Philip W

    We should refer to this as smart roads rather than solar roads. You can build so many amazing things into those roads that they actually can make sense in some way, if not this way. The solar panels are just a nice add-on.
    If you just look at those things as roads with solar panels, then they don’t make sense at all of course. But that’s not what makes those roads exciting to me.
    Although chances of failure are high for this particular product (they were high for Tesla, too), I’m pretty sure this idea will help transform the roads of the future.

  • Timothy A Clawson

    I don’t know why we keep bashing this technology. I’ve seen different green technology come and go over the last 30 years. If it doesn’t work (or prove cost prohibitive) then this company will just disappear. If it is successful all you nay Sayers will just eat crow. Anything can happen

    • GCO

      No, not everything can happen. Physics and simple math tell us quite well what’s possible and what’s not; see the videos @jennysommer:disqus linked.

      I’d have no problem with this nonsense project if it didn’t burn public funds, and didn’t distract from immensely more cost-effective solutions (like solar anywhere else).

      Ask yourself why, after 7 years of R&D — paid for by taxpayers and gullible followers — they still haven’t demonstrated basic things like LED markings visibility during daytime, for example (notice how all pictures of LEDs in action are indoor or at night).
      Ah yes, they need yet more money, for more “research”.

      The Brusaw (Solar Roadways founders) are perpetuating a scam, a fraud.

      • Philip W

        Not all pictures.

        • GCO

          The floor looks like carpet to me; not outdoor.

          • Philip W

            On the top left you can see grass and what looks like an open (garage) door and they just moved some table near the door. But I guess you’ll find something new to complain now 🙂

          • GCO

            You seem to believe that inside a garage is outdoor. I think we’re done here.

          • Philip W

            Thanks for confirming my assumption.
            It may not be 100% outside, but it’s in direct sunlight which is the most important. Yes there is some indirect light missing but that’s fairly insignificant.

            But I guess we also can’t read LED billboards, LED signs, LED traffic lights and so on. Weird that people build that stuff, if no-one can see those LEDs…

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you lay your smartphone flat on the ground in bright sunlight can you read the screen?

          • Philip W

            Bad comparison. Smartphones usually have LCD (only background light is LED, but not pushed to maximum possible brightness due to power consumption and heat generation and to save space) or AMOLED panels which are both different technology than what would be used here. You’re also not supposed to read a website with 2mm big letters one the road…
            Nonetheless: If you are wondering if I can see the smartphone display light up in bright sunlight. Absolutely.

          • GCO

            Again you simply assume. No I don’t share your guesses, let alone confirm them.

            Billboards etc don’t compare at all. This has been explained countless times already, including in the first video linked here.
            They have a vertical, flat surface, minimizing glare and dirt/grime accumulation. Their LEDs shine directly at the viewer. They can be much more densely packed, actively cooled ⇒ much brighter, longer-lasting. Light doesn’t have to travel through 5~10 cm of glass (because of the very shallow viewing angle), to then be scattered and partially reflected by a textured and scratched top surface.

            It doesn’t work. Even the Brusaw know it, and must laugh thinking at all the taxpayer dollars they netted with this scam.

          • Philip W

            Electric cars don’t work either.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Might you be more comfortable on another site?

            Perhaps one where being connected to reality is an option….

          • Philip W

            This is sarcasm, obviously. I have left almost 1000 comments on Cleantechnica. I feel very comfortable here, thanks.

            But that’s what a lot of smart people said not that long ago about EVs. Technology changes exponentially. So just saying that something doesn’t work if it’s not perfect right now is really dumb.

            Some people are just so occupied by hating one idea that they can’t see the potential behind that idea, even if a particular product doesn’t succeed.

          • GCO

            Oh please. EVs have been working for well over a century. The concept was always sound. Advances in batteries now make them competitive. Public benefits are obvious (emissions, noise, oil independence etc).

            Say you can have any new tech you want, with the only limits being the laws of physics. What could possibly make solar roads competitive against e.g. rooftop or ground-mount PV? Negative-price glass?

            What “potential” is there to justify spending any public money on this idea?
            If it’s so great, how come the concept doesn’t get private funding despite all the (undeserved) publicity? Are VCs dumb?
            (hint: they aren’t)

          • Philip W

            Read my other comment on the bottom of this page. There’s everything I have to say.

      • Timothy A Clawson

        Yes the government does waste lots of money on these projects, but the government keeps wasting money on ethanol production, which is already a proven failure. And even that doesn’t compare to the money wasted and fossil fuel and nuclear subsides. So ask yourself what do you want the government to waste money on?

        • GCO

          So it’s okay to waste money, as long as more is wasted on other things too?
          I can help if you want, I accept donations. For a few millions$, I too can redo my driveway…

  • reader121

    Wow, there’s some pretty serious resistance to this new idea! And it hasn’t even been tried yet.
    Hey how about we just go on burning fossil fuels until we trigger a runaway greenhouse effect, cook ourselves and also run out of energy? At least the oil companies will make a nice buck.
    Yeah that’s alot smarter….. therewego.

    • Bob_Wallace

      This idea has been around for a while and it has been tried.

      It’s a crappy place to put solar panels. There’s going to be a dirt problem and the cover glass will likely get scratched over time. People walking over the top will lower output.

      The system is going to have to be super-sealed, sitting in the mud as it often will be. One of the two things that is hard on solar panels is the stress of loading and unloading. Walking and riding bikes on them or driving on them will cause flexing.

      Put the panels where they can get as much sunshine as possible.

      There are many, many ideas. Not all of them are good.

    • djr417

      this is such a bad idea it borders on a scam. watch the videos from EEVblog, he rips it apart.

    • Roger Lambert

      So the choice is between Solar Roadways or a runaway greenhouse? Who knew?

  • Chase

    I would like to point out some misinformation here. Solar Roadways is paving a rest area’s side walks alongside route 66. They’re not actually putting these things on the actual road (yet, they might if the technology works, but that’s a pretty slim chance).

  • Jenny Sommer

    And the last one…


  • Jenny Sommer
  • Jenny Sommer
  • Jenny Sommer
    • Najeeb Ullah

      sorry this guy’s arguments did not impress me. You are building roads anyways y not get some energy from it too how little it may be. If they start with path ways they will get to actual roads too.

      • Jenny Sommer

        And why not take the money, built a normal road and 5 times the solar where it really makes sense?

      • GCO

        Unlike solar roads promoters’ presentation, EEVblog’s may not be as flashy, but it’s rooted in reality, presenting easily-verifiable facts.

        I found nothing wrong with this guy’s math showing how ridiculously impractical the whole thing is, even with his very optimistic assumptions (e.g. selling to the grid at 24 ¢/kW⋅h; 5 or 10 years without maintenance; etc).

      • djr417

        I guess you didnt watch the video where he discredits the bike pathway in the Netherlands then.

  • ParkOpinion

    I can’t believe these people haven’t been arrested for fraud and false advertising! Has NOBODY looked to see if the LEDs are actually visible in full daylight? If you are using all that electricity to run LEDs and heaters, then how is this highly-expensive roadway supposed to pay for itself?

    • athbr

      Asphalt and concrete are already close to the best passive solar elements possible. Instead of letting the sun just heat up the road, why don’t we convert it to electricity at low efficiency, and then convert it back to heat? That sounds like it could work.

    • Chase

      If it makes you feel better, they’re not actually lining parts of Route 66 with this stuff. They’re paving a rest stop’s sidewalks with it. So it’s less of an investment than most these articles are suggesting, and a trial that will hopefully prove this is not the best application of solar panels and other neato technology.

      • ParkOpinion

        In other words: a ground-mounted billboard installed where people can see it! That at least makes some sense…

        • Bob_Wallace

          More visual pollution….

  • Harry Johnson

    This is just stupid.

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