Solar Roadway's crazy plan to replace America's roads with solar panels has always been met with a mixture of public glee and pragmatic criticism. Now, though, the company is getting a new, tiny public test, with a stretch of solar sidewalk to be installed on Route 66. According to Missouri's News Tribune, Solar Roadway's hexagonal, LED-embedded solar panels will be used to generate electricity for the Route 66 Welcome Center at Conway, as well as possibly fund future pilots.
a small pilot starting with a stretch of pavement
"Solar roadways can hopefully create new revenue streams," Tom Blair, an engineer for Missouri's Department of Transportation (MoDOT), told the Tribune. "If their version of the future is realistic, roadways can begin paying for themselves." The solar panels will be tested first on a pavement leading to the rest stop's entrance, with plans to then expand onto the parking lot.
Solar Roadway, founded by Idaho couple Julie and Scott Brusaw, first started selling their solar dreams in 2010. They argued that their plan would deliver three times America's electricity demands, and that their hexagonal solar panels would also filter stormwater, replace above-ground power cables, melt snow, and even light up to give warnings to drivers. In 2014, the company raised more than $2.25 million for their project on Indiegogo.
there are many practical obstacles for solar panel roads
But there have always been practical obstacles, with cost being the biggest. It's been estimated that paving the nation's roads with solar panels would cost in the region of $56 trillion (although this figure has been disputed, and since its publication the price of solar panels has dropped). And once initial costs have been met, there's the issue of maintenance.
In the case of the Missouri Route 66 pilot, it seems the money has yet to be fully secured, with local government planning to seek crowd funding for the venture. "We are going to go out there publicly and on the internet [...] ask for money to make our solar roadway pilot project even bigger and better," said MoDOT's Blair, according to The Kansas City Star. "We expect [the solar panels] to be in place, I’m hoping, by the end of this year, maybe before snow flies."