You might remember a couple of years ago there was an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign for Solar Roadways that garnered a huge amount of attention. So much, in fact, that the project raised more than $2.2 million. And now it seems that one state in the US is preparing to trial this idea.
Solar Roadways, for those out of the loop, proposed turning existing roads into solar-powered ones, using some rather expensive tech. Their design involves using hexagonal glass solar panels studded with LED lights, which could be installed on roads, pavements, and even playgrounds.
The panels can apparently withstand even the heaviest trucks, while supplying electricity to nearby businesses and houses. They are waterproof, too, and the LEDs could supposedly display messages or warnings directly on the road. The cost of the panels is estimated at about $70 per square foot, which is about 10 times the price of regular asphalt.
Last week, it was revealed that Missouri’s Department of Transportation (MoDOT) wants to install these solar panels at a welcome center at a rest stop on the historic Route 66 highway in Conway, Missouri. This is part of MoDOT’s “Road to Tomorrow” initiative.
"If their version of the future is realistic, roadways can begin paying for themselves," said Tom Blair, assistant district engineer in MoDOT's St. Louis area district and head of the "Road to Tomorrow" project, reported the local News Tribune.
However, not everyone shares this rose-tinted vision of the future. As pointed out at the time of the Indiegogo campaign by numerous outlets, the innovative technology itself isn’t that, well, innovative. For starters, there’s the cost. It wouldn’t exactly be cheap to replace all existing roads with solar-powered hexagons, with some estimates putting the cost in the trillions of dollars. Why even replace roads, anyway? Why not just build solar panels next to the roads?
"There’s currently a virtually endless supply of places you could install solar panels that DON’T have cars driving over them and, as such, don’t require fancy high-tech glass covering them," said a blog post for Equities back in May 2014. "Or, for that matter, don't mean you have to worry about the long-term wear-and-tear of millions of tons of steel and rubber driving over them at high speed every year."
This is not the first planned public installation for Solar Roadways. That honor goes to the city of Sandpoint in Idaho, where it was announced in April that the panels would be installed on a concrete area near a fountain inside the city.
In this latest project, the finer details are not yet clear. For example, it hasn’t been announced how big a space will be covered, nor what the panels will be powering. The cost also isn’t clear, although Blair said that the project would be crowdfunded.
But while it remains a nice idea, it’s difficult to see how this will ever be useful for anything aside from a few small projects like these, and even then it would surely just be cheaper to install actual solar panels. On their Indiegogo page, the couple behind the project – Scott and Julie Brusaw – originally said they wanted to take their idea to the “world’s roadways.” That may, unfortunately, remain a pipe dream.
Other countries, like France, have announced similar plans to develop solar-paneled roads. But while they might work on a local level, unless the cost can be drastically reduced, you probably won't be driving down a solar-paneled highway anytime soon.
Is this what roads of the future will look like? Don't bet on it just yet. Solar Roadways®