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What Is a Solar Roadway?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 23, 2024
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A solar roadway is a proposed road made from a series of glass panels intended to replace asphalt streets while reducing energy costs and assisting drivers. According to plans and prototypes still being developed in 2011, each solar road panel would absorb the sun's energy, with the energy generated from a nationwide grid of these panels expected to be three times that needed to power the United States. Inside the panels would be light-emitting diodes (LEDs) intended to create the yellow and white lines commonly present on asphalt streets and to spell out messages such as “School Zone” or “Slow Down”. The LEDs also are intended to be sensitive to the presence of animals and light up to show drivers where animals are in the road. A heating mechanism in the panel would keep streets from icing over during the winter.

The predominant trait and main reason for a solar roadway is to produce more clean energy; a secondary benefit would be to create a road that is able to pay for itself during operation. To do this, each panel would be equipped with a large solar panel that would capture the sun’s energy on a continual basis. It is projected that this would provide the United States with about three times the amount of energy required annually. Along with the solar panels, many other features would be added to help drivers.

LEDs in the glass panel are intended to shine in both white and yellow to create the lines and messages commonly seen on traditional asphalt streets. This would allow messages to be changed on-the-fly and eliminate the need for painting and repainting the street. The solar roadway also would generate light, making it easier for drivers to see the road at night.

The LEDs in the solar roadway panels are intended to be able to create common street messages and lines, but they also are expected to protect wildlife. Plans for the panels call for them to be sensitive to an animal’s touch. When a deer, possum or other animal touches the glass, the LEDs would turn on, alerting drivers to the animal’s presence.

Heating mechanisms in the panels also would help during winter. Ice and snow can freeze on streets, making it dangerous to drive. The heating mechanism would ensure that snow and ice melts without the need for removal. This would ensure that the roads are safe during the winter and keep states and individuals from having to pay to remove the snow and ice.

As of July 2011, Solar Roadways Inc. of Idaho had been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration to continue its development of the panel. An initial grant allowed for the development of a prototype panel. Plans for the second phase included the creation of a parking lot built using the solar panels.

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Discussion Comments
By Ruggercat68 — On Apr 30, 2014

@Inaventu- I'm no scientist myself, but I think the latest solar technology does not require nearly as much sunlight as previous attempts. The trick is to generate and store as much power as possible whenever the sun is shining on the panels. The batteries would discharge that stored energy at night or on cloudy days.

The problem we have now is that solar panels don't generate a lot of power individually, and our present battery technology is not advanced enough for large scale solar energy projects. The best batteries in a laptop computer or smart phone still don't hold a usable charge for more than a few hours. Imagine how much energy a future solar-charged battery would have to store in order to power an average home.

By Inaventu — On Apr 29, 2014

I think we're actually going to see at least solar parking lots in our lifetimes, and solar roadways will be just a generation away. I agree with mrwormy that the technology isn't quite here yet, but I think we're doing much better than when the first solar panels came out. If we can scale down the panels and still produce the same amount of power, this idea of solar roads might just work.

For me, the problem would be deciding which parts of the country would benefit most from this solar energy system. I can easily see the wide open highways in the sunny parts of the West being the first places to get solar roadways, but would enough people benefit from the generated electricity? If they were installed on the busier traffic corridors on the East coast, would they receive enough sunlight to operate efficiently?

By mrwormy — On Apr 29, 2014

I'm always excited to hear about solar power breakthroughs and practical uses for solar energy. But I think the biggest hurdle in this day and time will always be financial. We still don't have affordable solar panels that can generate enough electricity to be considered efficient. We're still having to put racks and racks of solar panels on experimental cars just to power their motors and charge their batteries.

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